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Five Ways Drunk Driving Accidents Are Different in New York

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Drunk driving accidents continue to be a major problem in New York State. According to the most recent statistics available from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2013, there were:

    8,368 alcohol-related collisions in our state     4,250 of those crashes involved non-fatal injuries     358 accidents resulted in deaths.

Additionally, as a result of these crashes:

    6,019 people sustained some type of injury     387 people lost their lives.

Out of the 11,251 drivers involved in these crashes, 7,898 of them were reportedly driving drunk.

If you have suffered injury or lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, it is important to understand that these cases can be different from other types of crashes. We think the following are five key differences to keep in mind:

  1. 1. Drunk drivers may be sued for damages.

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New York is a “no-fault” state. If you suffer personal injury in an auto accident, you can file a claim with your own insurer for economic losses caused by the crash such as medical expenses and lost wages. To recover, you do not need to show that anyone else was at fault.

However, if your economic losses exceed $50,000, you may pursue a legal claim against the driver who caused the crash. You would seek to recover from the driver’s liability insurance coverage.

You can also pursue a claim against the other driver for non-economic losses – pain and suffering – if you sustained what is considered to be a “serious injury” such as a fracture, disfigurement or loss of the use of an organ or limb, or if you lost a loved one. In this type of case, you would need to establish fault.

In many drunk driving accident cases, claims are brought to recover from the drunk driver’s liability insurance. The driver’s fault is based on his or her operation of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol.

  1. 2. Criminal and civil drunk driving cases may overlap.

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When a drunk driving crash occurs, two types of cases may result: a criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit. These are two distinct cases. However, they naturally overlap in many ways.

As we stated above, recovering damages in a civil lawsuit through the drunk driver’s liability insurance requires proof of fault. Establishing fault often involves evidence collected during the driver’s criminal prosecution, including:

  • Field sobriety test evidence
  • Breath and blood test results
  • Witness statements about the driver’s condition (such as the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath or the fact that the driver was stumbling or driving erratically).

If a driver pleads guilty to or is found guilty by a jury of a drunk driving offense, this can help to establish “negligence per se” in the civil case. However, even if there is no conviction, a civil case can still be pursued against a drunk driver.

  1. 3. Parties other than the drunk driver can be liable.

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A major focus of any car accident investigation is determining all parties who should be held liable for the injuries and damages a victim has suffered. In a drunk driving accident case, for instance, there may be many other parties besides the driver who can be held responsible.

For instance, under New York’s Dram Shop Act, you could pursue action against a bar, restaurant or store who sold alcohol to the driver who hit you if, at the time of the sale, the driver was “visibly intoxicated” or “actually or apparently” under the age of 21.

Additionally, under New York’s social host liability law, any person who provides or assists a person under age 21 with alcohol may be held liable for an accident that results from the driver’s intoxication.

In some cases, a drunk driver’s employer may be held responsible. For instance, if a truck driver caused a crash because he or she was impaired by alcohol while on the road making a delivery, the trucking company could be named in a legal action.

  1. 4. Insurance companies take drunk driving accident cases seriously.

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An insurance company may be facing a large payout in a drunk driving accident case. This is because the driver’s fault may be clearly established, and the extent of physical, emotional and financial harm suffered by the drunk driver’s victim(s) may be extensive.

Knowing what is at stake, an insurance company may vigorously contest a case instead of presenting a full and fair settlement offer. This is why it is important for victims to seek help from an experienced car accident attorney who will be careful in establishing the victim’s right to a recovery and aggressive when dealing with insurance companies.

  1. 5. Punitive damages are often sought in drunk driving accident cases.

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Finally, it should be noted that punitive damages may be sought in drunk driving accident cases. This is because drunk driving amounts to the type of egregious misconduct that punitive damages are intended to punish and deter.

However, in New York, insurance companies are not required to pay punitive damage awards as a matter of public policy. As a result, you would need to turn to the drunk driver’s personal assets to recover the punitive damages portion of any award.

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