You may be entitled to recover damages if you were injured in a drunk driving accident
There’s only one thing to say about drunk driving: Don’t.
Unfortunately, whether or not you’re involved in a drunk driving car accident isn’t always just up to you. Drunk driving affects everyone on the road, whether it’s the driver, passengers, other drivers, pedestrians, or bicyclists.
Michigan drunk driving facts
In a survey reported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), nearly 2% of adults in Michigan admitted to driving drunk during the course of a month. Bear in mind, these aren’t people who were caught... they were people chosen at random for a survey who were willing to admit that they’d engaged in this risky behavior.
The CDC also reported that between 2003 and 2012, nearly 3,000 people were killed in Michigan drunk driving accidents, with the greatest number of fatalities occurring among people ages 21-34.
Everyone is statistically likely to be in a few car accidents in their lifetime, but most result in minor injuries, if any. Some accidents are weather-related, while others happen because someone misjudged speed, made an overcorrection on a lane change, or made other types of common mistakes. And those are simply accidents.
But an alcohol-related crash is preventable.
We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t drink and drive.”
But knowing what to do to avoid another driver who might be drunk and how to handle the immediate aftermath of an accident is also important.
Michigan drunk driving laws
How does Michigan define drunk driving?
- Driving while intoxicated or impaired by alcohol, a controlled substance, or another intoxicating substance.
- With a body alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher.
- With a BAC of 0.17% or more, which creates a “High BAC” crime.
- With any amount of cocaine or a Schedule 1 controlled substance in your body.
If you’re under age 21, there are additional definitions of drunk driving that include:
- Driving with a BAC of 0.02% or higher, or any alcohol in your body unless it was consumed at a generally recognized religious ceremony.
- Purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol. You may only transport alcohol in a vehicle if there’s a person present who is age 21 or older. If a person under 21 is discovered to have alcohol in their vehicle (even in a parking lot), they can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Michigan drunk driving charges
When a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle was visibly impaired because of alcohol, a controlled substance, or another intoxicating substance.
Operating while intoxicated (OWI)
- When alcohol, drugs, or another intoxicating substance substantially affects a person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
- When a person’s BAC is 0.08% or higher, as determined by a chemical test.
- When a driver has a High BAC result of 0.17% or higher on a chemical test.
Operating with the presence of a Schedule 1 drug or cocaine (OWPD)
When a small trace of any Schedule 1 drug or cocaine is detected by a chemical test, even if the person doesn’t appear impaired.
Under age 21 operating with a BAC (Zero Tolerance)
When any alcohol (other than that consumed at a religious ceremony) is detected in a driver under the age of 21.
Penalties for drunk or drugged driving in Michigan
A court must resolve a drunk driving case within 77 days from the date of the arrest. Possible penalties include:
- License suspension or revocation. There’s a mandatory 6-month driver’s license suspension for a first conviction. The driver could be eligible for a restricted license after 30 days of suspension. The first conviction of high BAC results in a mandatory 1-year license suspension. The driver could be eligible for a restricted license after 45 days of suspension with an ignition interlock device (IID) installed.
- Fees and fines. If your license is suspended, revoked, or restricted because of drunk driving, there’s a $125 reinstatement fee.
- Rehabilitation. The court may order a rehabilitation program for a first offender. The court must order rehabilitation for a driver who has a prior conviction or is convicted of High BAC.
There are harsher punishments for people who have multiple drunk driving convictions. For instance, a second conviction can result in 5 days to 1 year of consecutive jail time, 30 to 90 days of community service, or both.
Drunk or drugged driving becomes a felony if:
- It’s a 3rd conviction over the driver’s lifetime
- The drunk driving resulted in someone’s death.
- The drunk driving caused serious injury to another person.
Refusal to take a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT)
A police officer might ask a suspected drunk driver to take a PBT, or Preliminary Breath Test. Refusal to submit to the test could result in a civil infraction charge with a fine of up to $150, and court costs.
Michigan implied consent law
When you drive a car in Michigan, you give your implied consent to taking a chemical test to determine your BAC if you’re arrested for drunk driving.
If you refuse to take a BAC test, you will be subject to separate consequences from your drunk driving arrest. In other words, they’re 2 separate charges and convictions.
You may request an administrative hearing about your refusal, and the police officer would need to prove their case for requesting a BAC test. If the officer successfully proves their case, the driver:
- Receives 6 points on their driving record, and
- Suspends their license for 1 year for a first refusal or 2 years for a subsequent refusal within the preceding 7 years.
In addition to alcohol and street drugs, there are other substances that can impair your ability to drive. These might include antihistamines found in over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, sleeping pills, pain relievers, diet pills, “stay awake” drugs, medications that include caffeine or ephedrine/pseudoephedrine, or tranquilizers.
Different drugs affect people differently, and these effects vary depending on the combination of medications. If you’re taking medication, always read the package insert carefully to see if there are warnings about driving while taking it, and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.
Recognizing a drunk driver
There are a few ways that you can identify a drunk driver on the road.
People who are intoxicated or impaired might:
- Weave or swerve in and out of their lane
- Drift among lanes
- Cross the center line into oncoming traffic
- Runoff the road onto the shoulder or median
- Stop too quickly or too slowly
- Drive too fast or too slowly
- Fail to obey stop signs or signals
- Drive on the wrong side of the road
What to do if you see a drunk driver
First, if you’re around someone who might drive drunk and it’s someone you know well, you can and should try to prevent them from driving. Take their car keys, call them a ride, or drive them where they need to go (as long as you haven’t been drinking).
Second, if you’re on the road and spot someone you believe to be impaired, never try to apprehend them yourself. Some people are angry or even violent when drunk, and attempting to confront or apprehend them can be dangerous to your own safety.
If you see a driver behaving erratically, steer clear. Put as much distance as possible between yourself and that person’s vehicle. Avoid passing them if possible, but let them pass you if they’re approaching quickly from behind. Stay alert, because you want to be able to avoid an unpredictable action.
Pullover if you can and call 911. Report the location, direction of travel, description of the car, and the driver’s behavior to the police and let them handle the situation.
Liability for a drunk driving accident
Michigan is a no-fault insurance state and follows the modified comparative fault rule (51%) for liability.
If you’re injured in a car accident and the other driver is at fault, you would make a claim on your own insurance policy for your damages.
However, if your insurance doesn’t cover the extent of your damages or if you were severely injured, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver who caused the accident.
In your personal injury lawsuit, you can claim damages that include:
- Additional medical expenses not covered by insurance
- Lost wages or future earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Property loss
- Any additional damages for costs related to the accident
A driver who is liable for 51 percent of the accident or more cannot recover any damages from a personal injury lawsuit.
If you’re the injured person (plaintiff) and the other driver was drunk, it’s likely that they would be found to be liable, but the court will look at whether there was anything you could’ve done to avoid the accident.
If you were injured by a drunk driver — or if you lost a family member — it might be more than just that driver’s fault.
Sometimes, how and where the person became intoxicated are important details in the story.
For example, the owner of a restaurant or bar could be liable if they served alcohol to a patron who was visibly intoxicated or underage. The plaintiff would need to prove that the establishment continued to serve alcohol to a patron while they were already intoxicated.
What if the restaurant says they didn’t know the person was drunk?
They might try to defend themselves this way, but your lawyer has tactics that could prove otherwise. Your lawyer might:
- Depose waitstaff or bartenders (question under oath)
- Obtain receipts, credit card statements, or other evidence of how many times the person was served and at what times
- Obtain surveillance video of the person drinking or that shows their behavior
- Question other patrons who were present
Social host laws
A social host law is similar to a dram shop law, except that it applies to those who aren’t licensed to serve liquor, like a homeowner. Social host liability also only applies when a minor became intoxicated at a private home party or event and then caused an accident.
In order to make a successful claim against a social host, the plaintiff must prove that:
- They suffered an injury as a result of the person’s action or inaction.
- The person who caused the injury was a minor (under age 21 for an alcohol-related accident).
- The defendant (social host) knowingly provided alcohol to the minor, or didn’t make a reasonable effort to know if the person was a minor.
- The defendant serving alcohol to the minor caused the plaintiff’s injury.
How do you know if you’re too drunk to drive?
It’s important to realize that you don’t have a definite way to know your own BAC. A person’s BAC is unique, and it varies based on the circumstances of the drinking involved. So, your BAC might be higher today after a single drink than it was last time.
All of these factors can affect your BAC:
- Body size/weight
- Number of drinks and type of alcohol (strength)
- Time period during which drinks were consumed (for example, “chugging” vs. “sipping”)
- How much food you ate before/during drinking
- Certain medical conditions that affect how the body metabolizes alcohol
So, if you sip a glass of wine with dinner, it might affect your BAC differently than if you chug a beer on an empty stomach.
The best rule of thumb is not to drive if you’ve had any alcohol. Before you drink, assign a designated driver, plan for a ride home (a friend, Uber, Lyft, or another service), or plan to stay at your location long enough to get sober before you leave.
If you’re injured in an accident with a drunk driver, it’s important to call a Michigan personal injury lawyer right away. Your lawyer will gather evidence quickly, while it’s still available. Drunk driving accidents can be devastating, and injuries can be severe and long-lasting. You might be entitled to compensation, and your attorney will work on recovering what you need to move forward.