According to National Drunk Driving Statistics, in 2019 alone, there were 163 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, making up for 27.3% of total fatalities in our state. Regrettably, drunk driving, which is a criminal violation, remains one of the most severe safety issues throughout the United States, with motor vehicle accidents of various degrees of severity involving drunk drivers being a tragic, everyday reality.
Following an alcohol-related accident, the drunk driver may be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI), depending on the outcome of the conducted blood alcohol tests. They may face criminal fines or even jail time if convicted of alcohol-related charges . Nevertheless, such a criminal conviction does not compensate potential victims, which you must keep in mind if you or a loved one was hurt in a car accident involving a drunk driver.
A victim of such an accident does have several legal options, though. You would be well advised to seek the assistance of an experienced attorney who has dealt with car accidents involving drunk drivers to guide you through the process and advise you on how to exercise your rights most effectively.
Ross Ziev and his team at Legal Help in Colorado are Denver’s premier car crash attorneys, with vast experience in such cases. Most importantly, we are committed to helping all injury victims from all walks of life, following a contingency fee arrangement—which means you can rest assured we will handle your case while you focus on your healing, without you owing us any fees until you receive your compensation payment.
Know Your Rights
As disturbing as it may be, the sad reality is that vehicle accidents are the most common personal injury in the United States, with injury victims being drivers, passengers, and even passers-by. In accordance with car accident laws in Colorado, which is an at-fault state, motorists are under obligation to carry liability insurance to pay for any damage they cause . Therefore, if you or a loved one was injured in an accident with a drunk driver, you are entitled to compensation from the at-fault party.
Depending on the particulars of your case, you may be able to seek compensation from the drunk driver, their insurance company for payment, and even their employer if they were a commercial driver. In Colorado, it is possible to turn against a bar or restaurant if you can prove that they overserved the driver (dram shop claim).
In more severe cases, where a drunk driving accident may have led to death, it may also be possible for surviving family members of the victim to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Although this is obviously a grave scenario, and nothing could ever bring a loved one back, such actions offer some relief, at least on a financial level, as they may lead to the recovery of certain costs associated with funeral and burial expenses, etc.
Obviously, each accident is unique, and all decisions will need to be taken depending on its particular circumstances. Generally speaking, you should first consider filing a claim against the impaired driver’s liability insurance in any car accident case. Following this, if the insurance company refuses to make a fair payment or if there isn’t enough insurance to cover your total damage, you may need to file a civil lawsuit.
The Negligence Factor
Typically, personal injury lawsuits filed by victims in Colorado, including those concerning accidents that involve drunk drivers, are based on negligence law and are directed against the party liable for causing the injury. Therefore, liability and negligence are two key issues that need to be determined.
To prove a negligence case, the person who was hurt (the plaintiff) must prove:
- That the defendant owed them a so-called duty of care.
- The defendant breached that duty.
- It was that breach that caused your damages.
In addition to the above, you must establish what kind of damages you suffered.
Another factor you must consider is that Colorado is also a comparative fault state, which applies comparative negligence law . In practice, this means that you may be found to be partly at fault in an accident. If more than one party is at least partially at fault, the compensation will be based on their contributions to the accident. So, if a drunk driver caused the accident but the victim somehow contributed to it—for example, due to inattention, poor decision-making, or illegal activity—a judge may reduce the damages awarded by their percentage of fault.
Damages You May Be Entitled To
If you show that the defendant was negligent in causing your accident, they will be held responsible for your damages and will be due to pay you related compensation.
The compensation you may receive could include both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages relate to damages that can be calculated exactly, such as medical bills, rehabilitation costs, property damage, lost wages, loss of earning ability, reimbursement for the repair, replacement of your vehicle, etc.
Non-economic damages are typically awarded for subjective, non-monetary losses suffered following a victim’s injury. They are generally intended to cover things such as pain, suffering, inconvenience, emotional distress, loss of companionship, loss of enjoyment of life, etc.
In addition to the above, it is also possible you can claim what is known as punitive damages against the intoxicated driver. Even though this type of damage is generally reserved for exceptional cases and aims at reforming or deterring the defendant from engaging in similar conduct in the future, drunk driving is an example of willful, wanton, and reckless conduct for which you may claim punitive damages.
Finally, it is also important to remember that Colorado laws set various caps on the amount of money you may recover from a lawsuit, depending on the type of damages you have suffered, the cause of action, and the defendant’s identity .
When filing a lawsuit following a car accident, you must also comply with the Colorado statute of limitations, which prescribes the time victims have to bring their car accident case to court. More specifically, Title 13 of the Colorado Revised Statutes  stipulates that you must bring your claim within three years from when the car accident happened or when you became aware of your injuries, even though several exceptions to this rule are in place. Most crucially, failure to do so may mean that you won’t be able to bring a legal claim at all.
Notwithstanding the above, as many car crash-related injuries may not appear immediately following an accident, you must determine the right time for filing. Of course, you will have to ensure that you observe all applicable time limits. However, you should also not rush into taking action before you have sufficient knowledge of the nature, extent, and impact of your injuries.
Car accidents pose many complications and challenges. You need to consider the injuries you may have suffered, the requirements of establishing fault and negligence, and provide adequate proof of the damages suffered. These, coupled with the need to calculate your claim accurately and comply with formalities, mean that you will be better served by having an experienced personal injury attorney represent you. Doing so can be invaluable when preparing and negotiating a claim against a drunk driver and if you decide to seek compensation in civil court.
Legal Framework for Accidents Involving Drunk Drivers
Injuries caused in the context of car accidents involving drunk drivers often pose special challenges, which could complicate and streamline your claim for personal injury.
In ‘typical’ accident cases, victims can generally file a personal injury lawsuit immediately after an accident occurs. However, things can get complicated in situations involving drunk drivers when a criminal case is also filed against the driver. You may have to delay your civil lawsuit until the criminal case, which is separate from a civil claim and is run by the state, reaches its conclusion.
This might take considerable time. Also, irrespective of the outcome, the defendant will have spent a substantial amount of money on legal representation, leading to limited remaining funds that could be used towards compensation payments. At the same time, the information disclosed and evidence filed in a criminal case can prove to be helpful in a subsequent civil lawsuit, so, in this sense, this could be a positive factor.
In any event, and even though the existence and outcome of a criminal case may impact a related civil lawsuit, it is not required that the intoxicated driver be found guilty in a criminal action for you to sue them for damages.
As the standard of proof in a criminal trial is much higher than in a civil lawsuit, it is possible that you may successfully win a civil case even if an impaired driver is found “not guilty” under the high criminal standard. Accordingly, if a drunk driver is either found guilty or pleads guilty to a DUI, this may be used as proof of negligence in a personal injury case.
Claim The Compensation You Deserve
All accidents leading to injury or death leave victims and those close to them devastated. You should deal with the most critical aspect of any injurious accident: looking after your health and well-being. Unfortunately, you may instead have to deal with a case that involves an impaired driver and ends up having a criminal dimension to it.
As a victim, you have rights. You should be able to exercise them to hold accountable those responsible for your injuries and receive the compensation that you need and deserve to move on with your healing. The best way to do this is, without a doubt, by employing the services of a seasoned personal injury lawyer, who will support and guide you through the process.
Ross Ziev and his Legal Help in Colorado team have extensive experience in DUI auto accidents and the right approach required when negotiating the best possible deal for you, whether in or out of court. Initial consultations are free and our contingency-based financial arrangement means you will not have to pay us any fees until you receive your payment.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident involving a drunk driver and want to explore your legal options, call us at (303) 351-2567, or visit our offices at 6795 E. Tennessee Ave. #210, Denver, CO, 80224 to discuss your case in complete confidence.