In many ways, personal injury claims arising from drunk driving accidents in New York State are different than claims involving other types of motor vehicle crashes.
However, before we discuss five specific differences, let’s take a closer look at the scope of the drunk driving problem in New York.
Our law firm compiled data on drunk driving accidents in New York State from a recent five-year period, ending in 2014. The statistics revealed that, despite some improvement, drinking and driving continues to be a major issue.
The statistics from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYSDMV) showed that every year in New York, on average, there are:
- 8,384 alcohol-related collisions
- 4,288 of those crashes involve non-fatal injuries
- 322 result in deaths.
Additionally, as a result of these crashes:
- 6,091 people sustain some type of injury
- 351 lose their lives.
Out of the 56,488 drivers who were involved in these crashes over the five-year period that we examined, 39,723 of them – or 70 percent – involved a drinking driver.
The good news is that, during the final year of the period, 2014, the total number of alcohol-related collisions in New York State dropped significantly, going from 8,368 to 7,849, or a 6.2 percent decrease. Additionally, in drunk driving-related accidents:
- Fatalities fell by 24.8 percent (from 387 to 292)
- Injuries fell by 5.7 percent (from 6,019 to 5,674).
Several factors may have contributed to these declines, including changes in the law that such as:
- NYSDMV rules, which took effect in 2012, that deny a driver’s license to anyone with five or more DWI convictions and impose a five-year waiting period on anyone seeking a restored license who has three or four DWI convictions within the past 25 years (and even then, the driver can receive only a conditional license and must use an ignition interlock device).
- A law which took effect in 2013 that makes it a felony to get arrested for a DWI while driving with a conditional license.
The bottom line is that the risk of getting into a collision with a drinking driver remains way too high in New York. If you suffer an injury or lose a loved one in a collision caused by a drunk driver, you should understand these five ways in which your case will be different from other types of crashes:
Drunk drivers may be sued for damages.
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 sustain 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 lose a loved one. In this type of case, you would need to establish fault.
In many drunk driving accident cases, the economic losses exceed $50,000, and victims suffer serious injury. As a result, claims typically are brought to recover from the drunk driver’s liability insurance. The driver’s fault is based on the operation of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol.
Criminal and civil drunk driving cases may overlap.
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 which is 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.
Parties other than the drunk driver can be liable.
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, many other parties besides the driver 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 alcohol to a person under age 21 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.
Insurance companies take drunk driving accident cases seriously.
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 it comes to dealing with insurance companies.
Punitive damages are often sought in drunk driving accident cases.
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.