In a car accident caused by a drunk driver, the driver may face criminal and civil penalties. You may be concerned that if the driver is convicted of drunk driving as a crime, it could somehow negate your lawsuit. However, these two types of cases are independent.
Therefore, if a drunk driver hits you, you can sue in civil court to recover damages for your injuries.
Criminal Proceedings vs. Civil Litigation
Because drunk driving is a crime in Virginia, the guilty driver will face a legal penalty, even in the absence of an accident or injury. Depending on the level of alcohol in the driver’s system when they were caught driving while intoxicated, the punishment could be a fine, jail time, or both. The criminal proceedings are meant to serve as a deterrent and a benefit to society as a whole.
Civil litigation, on the other hand, is designed to compensate an accident victim or their loved ones in the event that there was a serious injury. In the case of a fatality, surviving family members may file a civil suit to recover compensation to replace the financial support the deceased person would have provided.
Types of Compensation You Can Receive
Generally speaking, there are two ways to recover damage from a drunk driver:
- Compensatory damages, and
- Punitive damages
Compensatory damages are designed to return you, as best as possible, to the state you were in before the accident occurred. This compensation will cover medical bills, lost wages, and the cost of being inconvenienced, as well as the potential to receive money for pain and suffering.
In the case of a wrongful death drunk driver lawsuit, these damages are more difficult to quantify. Still, lawyers and the courts have methods to determine how much a drunk driver should pay in these circumstances.
Punitive damages, by definition, are meant to punish the drunk driver for what society deems as bad behavior. These damages can be a multiple of compensatory damages.
Determining Fault and Recovering Damages in a Drunk Driver Lawsuit
Virginia’s contributory negligence policy can potentially bar recovery if an accident victim is found to share any fault with the drunk driver. This policy seems grossly unfair, but the good news is that the fault for most drunk driving accidents can be wholly placed on the drunk driver.
However, a defense attorney or insurance company may try to fight tooth and nail to prohibit your recovery. Having an experienced personal injury attorney on your side can help you navigate any loopholes, including the one where the drunk driver refuses a breathalyzer test.
Once the fault is determined, the drunk driver’s insurance company will compensate you for your damages. If the driver does not have insurance or your damages extend beyond their coverage, other options include having your insurance company kick in financially through your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.
Again, it is helpful to discuss these intricacies with an attorney so that you can focus on healing and moving forward after the accident.
Hit by a Drunk Driver? We’re Here to Help.
We understand that this can be a difficult time for you and your family. To help resolve your case and get adequate compensation for your injuries, contact Geoff McDonald & Associates, P.C., for a free consultation. We can discuss your case and figure out an action plan so that you can move on with your life as quickly as possible.