Drunk Driving Car Accidents
Despite decades of outreach designed to spotlight the dangers of drunk driving, approximately 28 Americans are fatally injured every day in wrecks involving alcohol. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities stem from drunk driving. These same car accidents result in $44 billion in damages. Unfortunately, statistics also show that the promise of stiff penalties and fines has done little to deter drunk driving. Although more than one million drivers are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) every year, an estimated 121 million Americans self-report drinking and driving on occasion.
The physical and financial devastation caused by drunk driving is clear. However, a drunk driving car accident is an entirely avoidable event. When a driver gets behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, they not only knowingly put themselves at risk but also all surrounding motorists. This heightened level of negligence is easily and frequently compensable in a court of law.
Special Damages Are Often Available in DUI Cases
South Carolina is a tort liability state, thus allowing car accident victims to pursue compensation for financial losses related to the wreck. This may include medical treatment, rehabilitation costs, property damage, and lost wages. Additionally, an injured party may be entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering.
However, when alcohol plays a role in a car accident, victims can – and should – seek punitive damages. South Carolina generally caps punitive damage awards at the greater of three times the amount of compensatory damages pursuant to S.C. Code § 15-32-530, though important exemptions to this rule exist in DUI cases.
To that end, when a defendant acted unreasonably and with knowledge that his or her actions were likely to injure another – or when the actions constitute a felony – victims may seek up to four times their compensatory damage award. If a defendant was under the influence of alcohol there is no cap on damages a judge or jury may award. Moreover, any punitive damage award issued by a judge or jury is paid in addition to their compensatory damage award.
Victims Must Establish Drinking Was a Factor in a Car Accident
In most cases, law enforcement will arrest a suspected drunk driver or issue a citation for DUI if the driver fails or refuses a field sobriety test. In court, an official police report indicating as much can serve as proof that alcohol contributed to the crash. When filing a personal injury lawsuit in connection with property damage and physical injuries sustained in a drunk driving accident, it is often beneficial to allow the criminal case against a DUI defendant to proceed first. A conviction for DUI bolsters a victim’s claims considerably. However, even if a defendant is ultimately acquitted, a victim may still seek damages at trial and establish independently that alcohol was a contributing factor in a crash.
Victims of drunk driving car accidents may also take legal action against other parties in connection with the crash. Though South Carolina has no specific statute authorizing actions against bars and taverns who continue to serve patrons despite visible intoxication, such entities have been held liable in court in such cases. Social host liability has also been found in cases involving minors who were knowingly supplied alcohol by an adult.
South Carolina Car Accident Lawyers at Chappell, Smith & Arden Represent Drunk Driving Accident Victims
The decision to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs is both selfish and careless. If you or a loved one has been injured in a drunk driving accident, the Columbia car accident lawyers at Chappell, Smith & Arden will seek justice on your behalf. Contact us online or call 803-929-3600 or toll free at 800-531-9780 to schedule a consultation at one of our five offices, where we serve clients throughout South Carolina, including in Lexington County, Richland County, Sumter County, Aiken County, Florence County, Lancaster County, York County, Orangeburg County, Kershaw County, Newberry County, Columbia, Lexington, Irmo, Chapin, Rock Hill, Aiken, Sumter, Newberry, Florence, and Spartanburg.