Understanding victims’ rights to compensation following a DUI accident
Unfortunately, most people can name an acquaintance who was injured or killed in a DUI accident. DUI (driving under the influence) accidents are often serious and frequently result in death. If you or a loved one were injured by a drunk driver, don’t assume that the criminal charges and the settlement options from the insurance company are enough. Pursuing a personal injury claim will likely earn you the most financial compensation for your physical and emotional injuries.
What qualifies as a drunk driving accident in Georgia?
In order to file a personal injury claim for DUI accidents, the defendant must have demonstrated that he or she was under the influence of alcohol with one of the following criteria:
- The driver had a blood alcohol content level of .08 or higher after the breathalyzer test.
- The driver refused the blood alcohol test and/or failed to submit a blood or urine sample.
- The driver is under 21 with a BAC of .02 or higher.
- The driver was a professional or commercial driver and had a BAC level of .04 or higher.
Field sobriety tests were left off of the above list as they are typically not enough for a defendant to be found guilty of drunk driving. Nevertheless, failed field sobriety tests may be presented in a civil lawsuit as proof of intoxication.
In general, evidence from police reports, state lab results and/or a criminal trial may all be presented during the personal injury lawsuit in order to establish that a DUI was committed and that compensation should be awarded.
DUI drug accidents
Though DUI accidents typically refer to drunk driving crashes, you may also recover damages from a defendant who was driving while high on drugs. If a driver is shown to have any amount of controlled substances in his or her blood, then he or she is considered “under the influence” and guilty of a DUI drugs crime.
Under Georgia DUI laws, drivers who took a large dose of prescription drugs or over-the-counter medication may also be found guilty of a DUI. Here, the prosecution is responsible for showing that the legal drugs caused the driver to drive in a manner that was “less safe” than normal driving.
Finally, a person may be convicted of a DUI if the accused consumed both medication and alcohol before driving. In these cases, the judge will examine if the person demonstrated dangerous driving behavior. Thus, a driver could be guilty of a DUI if his or her BAC was less than .08.
Why file a drunk driving lawsuit in Georgia?
The state of Georgia is unique in that it is one of the few states that offers financial assistance as part of a victim compensation program. By completing an application with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, an accident victim may receive the following financial compensation:
- Medical expenses: up to $15,000
- Funeral expenses: up to $6,000
- Counseling expenses: up to $3,000
- Economic support expenses: up to $10,000
- Crime scene sanitization: up to $1,500
Georgia also has an application process to have a memorial sign constructed for any victims of a fatal DUI accident.
It is important to note that not everyone will qualify for victim compensation. Each application is viewed separately, but the general requirements are:
- The accident victim either died or suffered serious injuries.
- The victim didn’t cause the accident.
- The police were notified of the accident within 72 hours.
- The victim has tried all other options for compensation, including auto and health insurance claims.
- The application is completed no longer than 1 year after the accident, unless there is a substantial reason for the delay. In this case, application must be filed within 3 years of the DUI accident.
Though the above may seem like a generous sum, not everyone will qualify. It is also important to remember that Georgia does NOT limit the damages awarded for pain and suffering. Long-term physical and emotional rehabilitation may cost substantially more than what the state can provide, and victims may be awarded much larger damages from a judge or jury panel in a civil lawsuit.
Furthermore, Georgia allows for the recovery of punitive damages in drunk driving cases. These damages are purely meant to offer a bit more financial support to accident survivors or victims’ families. Thus, a civil lawsuit for DUI accidents may provide more of a financial cushion to all those affected by the crash.
Georgia’s drunk driving laws allow for recovery from third parties in DUI accident lawsuits. Georgia statute O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40 creates liability for anyone who serves alcohol to a minor who later gets into a drunk driving accident that causes injury or death. The term “dram shop” refers to the business, such as a bar or nightclub, who sells alcohol to an underage driver while a “social host” provides the alcohol for free.
Dram shop and social host liability extends to more than just underage drinking. Any business or host who continues to serve alcohol to a person who is noticeably drunk and plans to drive home can be sued for damages connected to that person’s drunk driving accident.
In order to be sure that you sue all relevant parties connected to your drunk driving accident, you should consult a GA personal injury attorney.
Vehicular homicide and wrongful death lawsuits
When a victim is killed as the result of a drunk driver, the driver is charged with the felony level crime of vehicular homicide. Vehicular homicide charges in Georgia go hand in hand with wrongful death lawsuits as this is the family’s best chance to receive a high award of damages. Accordingly, it’s important for the victim’s family to consult a personal injury attorney and not pursue a settlement or sign the release of restitution.
Another key fact to remember is that damages connected to vehicular homicide are not released following a bankruptcy claim. Thus, if the statute of limitations isn’t close to running out, waiting for the drunk driver to be convicted of vehicular homicide before taking the case to court is typically preferred.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.