Whether you’re a motorist or a pedestrian, being involved in an accident with a drunk driver can be a terrifying prospect.
Fortunately, as a victim of a drunk driver you have several legal remedies available to you.
In this article, we’ll go over the legal options you can pursue after being hit by a drunk driver.
We’ll also talk about certain Virginia laws relating to drunk driving.
These will include both Virginia’s unique statutes against drunk driving as well as Virginia’s contributory negligence legislation.
Virginia’s Punitive Damage Laws
Most states treat drunk driving as a pretty straightforward case of personal liability.
Namely, if a drunk driver injures you, they have to pay your medical bills and any related damages.
Virginia, however, takes this one step further by making the drunk driver pay further punitive damages to their victims.
This means that in Virginia, your payout at the end of a drunk driving case can significantly exceed your medical bills, repairs, and other costs.
However, Virginia’s punitive damage laws only come into play in the following three circumstances:
- The drunk driver had a BAC level of 0.15 percent or more at the time of the accident. Note that this is significantly above the legal limit of 0.08% BAC.
- The driver knew (or should have known) that, by drinking alcohol, their ability to operate a motor vehicle would be significantly impaired.
- The defendant’s intoxication was the “proximate cause” of the injury or death or the victim.
If any of the circumstances above apply to your case, the court might allot punitive damages in your case.
Virginia’s Contributory Negligence Laws
On the other hand, Virginia’s personal injury laws don’t always work in the favor of the plaintiff.
In particular, Virginia is one of several states with pure contributory negligence.
This means that, in most circumstances, you cannot receive compensation for any damages if you were even partially responsible for accident.
It doesn’t matter whether you were 90% responsible or 10% responsible for the accident—Virginia courts will only assign damages if one party is exclusively at fault.
Here are a few examples of contributory negligence:
- Getting into a car with a drunk driver and subsequently suffering injury.
- Driving while also under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Driving or walking while distracted.
Needless to say, claims of contributory negligence are a popular way to avoid paying damages in personal injury cases.
For this reason, it’s important to work closely with your lawyer to prepare a strong case against such a claim.
Now that you know about Virginia’s unique drunk driving personal injury laws, it’s time to explore your legal options.
Before we begin, however, remember that all of the information in this article applies to undocumented immigrants as well.
Under Virginia law, everyone has the same right to file a personal injury claim in the event of a traffic accident.
Accepting an Insurance Settlement
To begin, Virginia doesn’t actually require that drivers have insurance before hitting the road.
Nevertheless, the vast majority do, and most insurance companies offer sizable insurance settlements in drunk driving accident cases.
In most cases, accepting this insurance settlement is the first and best option you have.
If you accept such a settlement, you will receive a lump sum of money that is meant to pay for your medical bills and other related costs.
However, you will be forever barred from seeking further damages.
For this reason, depending on the specifics of your case an attorney might recommend waiting on accepting this deal to see if they can get you an increased settlement.
In particular, you will want to consider the following:
- Has the incident gone to trial yet? The insurance company may increase the settlement amount if the court finds the driver guilty of a DUI. On the other hand, a not guilty verdict could significantly reduce your settlement offer.
- Do your damages exceed the company’s liability limit? If so, it might be a good idea to go to trial.
- Do you know the full extent of your injuries yet? Certain types of injury, such as traumatic brain injuries, can take a long time to fully diagnose and understand. It’s important not to settle before you know how much your injury will actually cost.
If you reject this first settlement, the insurance company may offer you another.
In fact, insurance companies can continue to offer different settlements right up until your trial.
Knowing the right time to accept such a settlement is one of the many skills an experienced personal injury lawyer can bring to your case.
Pursuing a Civil Case
If the driver who hit you lacks insurance, or if the insurance company refuses to offer you a fair settlement, it may be time to prepare for a civil case.
In this case, it is your job to prove that the drunk driver caused you harm and that you deserve monetary compensation for your resulting damages.
Most judges are not especially sympathetic to drunk drivers. However, there are other complications to be aware of in a civil case.
For example, even if found liable, the driver may simply not be able to afford the damages the court assigns.
If they declare bankruptcy as a result, you may be left paying for your own fees.
However, keep in mind that a bankruptcy does not generally clear punitive charges.
For those recently injured by drunk drivers, the wide variety of legal options can be overwhelming.
However, most cases follow one of the two most common paths.
You can either accept the insurance payout, or choose to take the driver to civil court.
In either case, you’ll want to at least speak with an experienced personal injury attorney before negotiating with the driver’s insurance.
Personal injury claims are highly case-specific, and an attorney can help you find the best legal strategy for your situation.