When drunk driving plays a role in a motor vehicle crash that results in serious injury or death, it’s important to understand the unique damages victims of drunk driving accidents in Atlanta, Georgia might obtain.
The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reported the three-year average of alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths was 263 – a figure officials say represents a steady climb.
Beyond the typical bodily injury liability insurance or uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (Georgia law requires every driver be covered by a minimum of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per crash in both cases), the Atlanta DUI injury attorneys at Apolinsky & Associates LLC can often also help crash victims secure compensation through:
- Georgia dram shop law claims. Per O.C.G.A.§ 51-1-40, this pertains not only to vendors furnishing alcohol to persons underage or noticeably impaired, but also social hosts (those who throw parties, etc.). They can be found liable for the same reasons.
- Negligent entrustment claims. As noted in the 1969 Georgia Court of Appeals case of Jones v. Cloud, a person who entrusts their vehicle to “an incompetent driver who is likely to cause injury to others through its use” can be held liable for any damages that result. The appellate court noted the principle has most often been applied to situations wherein a vehicle owner allows a person they know – or should know – is intoxicated access to operate the vehicle.
- Punitive damages. Unlike “compensatory damages,” which are intended solely to compensate a person for losses suffered as a result of someone else’s negligence, “punitive damages” (also sometimes called “vindictive damages” or “exemplary damages” are allowed in Georgia drunk driving cases per O.C.G.A. §51-12-5.1 (and other torts) for the purpose of penalizing, punishing or deterring an offender. Your drunk driving injury lawyer must specifically ask for them prior to trial and show via clear and convincing evidence that defendant engaged in “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression or that the entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences.” Drunk driving usually applies. If the court approves the request, it’s still up to the jury to decide whether to award punitive damages in your drunk driving case. Prior to 1997, punitive damages awarded in drunk driving cases were capped (as are most other punitive damage awards according to statute) at $250,000, absent any evidence of the mere intent to drink and drive. The Georgia Legislature removed this cap for torts committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs (unless the latter is a lawfully-prescribed medication).
- Crime victims’ compensation. Some Georgia DUI accident victims may find it worthwhile to explore filing for compensation through the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, which is funded by the state and can provide up to $25,000 in compensation for DUI injuries. Not all DUI accident victims will qualify, but you should ask your attorney about this, as well as the possibility of seeking restitution if there is a simultaneous criminal case against the driver. Criminal courts can and do offer restitution directly from the DUI offender who caused the crash, but you cannot receive double compensation for the same losses.
Again, these avenues for damages are in addition to any bodily injury liability damages you might receive from the at-fault driver, assuming your losses exceed that.
Will I Have to Fight for Bodily Injury Liability Coverage?
As our Atlanta drunk driving injury attorneys can explain, bodily injury liability is what would be paid from the other driver’s insurance in the event of a crash. Georgia is an at-fault state, meaning a driver who is 50 percent or more responsible for causing a crash is liable to pay for any resulting damages. Following a modified comparative fault model, if your comparative fault (responsibility for the crash) is more than half, you can’t collect damages. That is typically not an issue in a drunk driving case where the other driver is impaired and you aren’t.
But just because the drunk driver’s insurer is supposed to pay doesn’t necessarily mean you can expect an easy process, particularly if your damages are serious. Auto insurers are notorious for trying to reduce their liability however they can. This is true even when their insured is clearly at-fault for the crash. Although insurers will still sometimes try to argue comparative fault in these cases (i.e., just because their insured was impaired doesn’t mean they caused the crash), more likely the insurer will attempt to argue your injuries are not as severe as you allege. That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced Atlanta car accident attorney working on your case from the earliest stages (even though O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 technically extends a statute of limitations of two years from the date of the crash).
Our dedicated Atlanta injury law team will help you gather evidence sufficient to prove the full scope of your damages from the drunk driving crash, which may in some cases necessitate the help of expert witnesses like crash reconstruction specialists, medical doctors and forensic accountants.
What if the Drunk Driver Does Not Have Insurance?
If the drunk driver who caused your injuries was not insured or does not have enough insurance to cover your damages, your own auto insurer may step in and pay under your uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage – up to your policy limit. (This also kicks in if you are a passenger in a vehicle with a drunk driver or are struck as a pedestrian or bicyclist.) However, if you don’t have UM/UIM coverage or have low limits in relation to the injuries you suffered, looking to third parties like the place where the alcohol was served is so important.
The Atlanta personal injury attorneys at Apolinsky & Associates can help answer your questions regarding Georgia drunk driving injury claim damages.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta spinal cord injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.