Ohio Guide to Drunk Driving Accidents

Ohio drunk driving lawsuits

What to do if you’re involved in a drunk driving accident in the Buckeye State

Like all states, Ohio has laws in place to address drunk driving. Find out what those laws are and how they might impact your personal injury claim.

Alcohol (even in low doses) dulls the signals that travel from your brain to your body. The result is diminished concentration, judgment, and reaction. Your brain says stop, but your body doesn’t get the message until it’s too late.

Every day, almost 30 people die from drunk driving accidents in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 402 people died from drunk driving accidents in Ohio alone in 2018—that’s more than 1 person every single day.

An average of 1 person is killed in a drunk driving-related car crash every day in Ohio. Tweet this

Legal alcohol limit for driving in Ohio

In Ohio, driving under the influence (DUI) is referred to as operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI). The state’s OVI law, which can be found in Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 4511.19 states that:

“No person shall operate any vehicle if the person is under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.”

The legal limit in Ohio is .08 BAC.

However, you can be convicted of OVI if your BAC is less than .08, so long as other evidence shows that you’re impaired.

Enjuris tip: It’s not always easy to tell whether you’ve reached the legal threshold. Things like your weight and what you’ve had to eat can impact your BAC level. The best way to avoid being convicted of OVI or DUI is to call a taxi or rideshare service if you’ve had anything to drink.

A government-commissioned report by a panel of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommended significantly lowering drunk driving thresholds from .08 to .05. Thus far, all states (with the exception of Utah) set the threshold at .08.

What about marijuana?

Marijuana is considered a “drug of abuse” in Ohio. So yes, you can be arrested for OVI if you’re caught driving while high.

Drivers will be charged with OVI if they’re exhibiting signs of impairment due to the marijuana or if they have a concentration of marijuana metabolite of 35 or more nanograms per milliliter of urine, or 50 nanograms or more per milliliter of blood.

Implied consent laws in Ohio

When you operate a motor vehicle in Ohio, you automatically give consent allowing Ohio police to test your blood, urine, or breath to determine if you’re driving under the influence, so long as the officer has reasonable cause to believe you’re driving under the influence — or if you’re under the age of 21 and have consumed any alcohol.

This is referred to as the state’s “implied consent law.”

If you refuse to submit to testing, your license will automatically be suspended for 1 year (for a first offense). What’s more, the officer has the legal right to “employ whatever reasonable means are necessary” to ensure that you submit to testing.

Enjuris tip: Sobriety checkpoints are considered unconstitutional in some states, but not Ohio. Be prepared to stop if you approach a sobriety checkpoint.

Penalties for operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI) in Ohio

Penalties for OVI depend on the number of convictions the offender has had within the last 10 years.

Penalties for driving under the influence in Ohio
Offense Jail Fines License Suspension
First offense 3 days to 6 months $327-$1,075 1-3 years
Second offense 10 days to 6 months $525-$1,625 1-7 years
Third offense 30 days to 1 year $850-$2,750 2-12 years

A driver with a BAC of .17 or more will be convicted of an “aggravated OVI” and will be subject to increased penalties. In addition, a judge will generally include substance treatment as part of the OVI sentencing regardless of the offense.

Facing factsThink OVIs aren’t enforced?

Ohio police have made 128,642 OVI arrests in the last 5 years (26,614 in 2018). OVI arrests occurred most frequently in Franklin (2,717), Cuyahoga (1,343), Lucas (1,155), Lorain (1,018) and Summit (859) counties in 2018.

Ohio’s dram shop laws

Dram shop laws address whether an employer or owner of an establishment (usually a restaurant or bar) can be held liable for a crash caused by a drunk driver who was served at the establishment.

Ohio law allows a person who’s been injured by a drunk driver to sue an establishment for damages if the injuries occurred off the establishment’s property and the establishment “knowingly sold” alcohol to a “noticeably intoxicated person” or a person under age 21.

Let’s look at a fictional example where an establishment might be held liable:

Bob owns the Buckeye Bar in northeast Ohio. Randy works as a bartender at the Buckeye Bar.

One Friday night, Samantha enters the bar after consuming several drinks at the restaurant across the street. Samantha stumbles up to the bar and orders a drink. Randy can hardly understand Samantha because she’s slurring every other word. Nevertheless, he serves her a beer.

After drinking the beer, Samantha leaves the bar, drives home, and gets into an accident with another vehicle on the way. The driver of the other vehicle sues the Buckeye Bar.

In this example, the Buckeye Bar is liable because the bartender knowing served a “noticeably intoxicated” person.

Now let’s look at a real-life example where an establishment was NOT held liable:

Real Life Example: A Montgomery County club, called the Thirty-Eight Thirty Club, encouraged its patrons to buy drinks for its exotic dancers. The club didn’t limit the amount of alcohol a dancer could drink and didn’t keep track of it.

One such dancer became intoxicated and drove home. The dancer caused an accident that seriously injured 2 people in another car. One of the victims suffered more than $1 million in medical bills and permanent physical deformities as a result of the accident.

The 2 victims sued the club based on Ohio’s dram shop laws. The trial court, however, determined that the dancer wasn’t “noticeably intoxicated” (even though she admitted at trial that she had in fact been intoxicated). As a result, the trial court ruled that the club could not be held liable.

The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the decision

What to do if you’re hit by a drunk driver in Ohio

If you’re hit by a drunk driver, you should call the police immediately. When authorities arrive, explain that you suspect the other driver is intoxicated. Your statement may help the police officer establish the necessary reasonable grounds to administer a field sobriety test.

Additionally, you’ll want to call an ambulance (or have someone call an ambulance for you) if you’ve been injured. If you don’t believe you’ve been injured, you should still see a doctor following a car accident. Some injuries don’t show symptoms for days or even weeks after an accident. Seeing a doctor after your accident helps ensure you are physically okay and also helps begin a paper trail should you decide to file an insurance claim or lawsuit at a later date.

Once the authorities have been alerted and you make sure you're physically okay, contact a personal injury attorney near you.

Accident Report Form
Sample post-accident report form to keep in your glove box - fill out at the scene or as soon as you can after a car accident
Download in PDF format

Post-Accident Journal Form
Sample accident journal/diary to help you document the effect on your daily life
Download in PDF format

When to hire an Ohio car accident attorney

The drunk driver will face jail time and fines (by way of a criminal case brought by the prosecutor), but you’ll need to hire your own personal injury attorney if you want to sue for damages stemming from the accident.

In Ohio, you may be able to recover economic (medical expenses, lost wages, etc.) and noneconomic damages (pain and suffering, etc.).

Enjuris tip: Keep in mind that an action for bodily injury or personal property damage in Ohio must be brought within 2 years after the accident.

More resources

If you’re still looking for OVI information and help, the following resources may prove useful:

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