A Drunk Driver Hit Me: What are My Legal Options?

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Aaron House

A Drunk Driver Hit Me: What are My Legal Options?

In the 1990s, lawmakers and law enforcement agencies began a crackdown to reduce the number of car crashes caused by drunk drivers. Yet alcohol is still a factor in about a third of the fatal car wrecks in Missouri. Unfortunately, that proportion is not much lower than it was in the 1980s, before the crackdown began.

Alcohol is a depressant that slows motor skills and reaction times. Additionally, alcohol gives people a sense of euphoria, so they are unable to make sound judgments. This combination makes it incredibly dangerous for these people to operate motor vehicles. And, these impairing effects begin with the first drink.

For the most part, drunk drivers know that they should not get behind the wheel, yet they do so anyway and so disregard the safety of others. As a result, a Kansas City personal injury attorney might be able to obtain substantial compensation in these cases.

First Party Liability

Alcohol-related crash victims can generally prevail on the use of the negligence per se doctrine to obtain compensation for their injuries, in addition to ordinary negligence.

Negligence per se involves the violation of a safety statute. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are liable for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate a safety law, like the DUI law, and
  • That violation caused another person’s injury.

Significantly, the negligence per se doctrine usually still applies even if the tortfeasor is never convicted of the DUI in criminal court. This is because the burden of proof is different in criminal cases than in civil cases (think of the OJ Simpson trials). In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, a plaintiff must simply prove that the defendant was “probably” driving while intoxicated—that is, that it is more likely than not that the defendant was driving while intoxicated.

First responders do not always issue DUI citations, even if the tortfeasor was legally intoxicated. For example, these crashes sometimes kill the drunk driver, and police officers do not issue DUI citations posthumously. Additionally, as mentioned, alcohol’s impairing effects begin with the first drink. Most people are not legally intoxicated until they consume at least three or four drinks.

In these situations, victim/plaintiffs must establish a lack of ordinary care, which is alcohol impairment in this case, to obtain compensation for their injuries. Evidence on this point includes:

  • Erratic driving prior to the crash,
  • Unsteady balance,
  • Odor of alcohol,
  • Slurred speech, and
  • Previous location (i.e. did the drunk driver just come from a bar or other such place).

As stated above, victims/plaintiffs must establish alcohol impairment by a preponderance of the evidence, a legal term which means “more likely than not.”

Third-Party (Restaurant or Bar Owner’s) Liability

Investigating where a driver was coming from is always essential in a drunk driving case because Missouri has a limited dram shop law that holds bars, clubs, and restaurants responsible for overserving a defendant who then injures or kills another person while driving while intoxicated. Bars, clubs, restaurants, and other establishments which sell alcohol by the dram (by the serving) might be vicariously liable for car crash damages if the patron was:

  • Under 21 or
  • Visibly intoxicated.

A visibly intoxicated person is defined as a person with “significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction.” The other circumstantial evidence listed above is admissible on this point as well.

Vicarious liability is especially important in Missouri. The Show Me State has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the country. So, in catastrophic wrecks, many tortfeasors do not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation.

Usually, this compensation includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Rely on an Experienced Attorney

If you have been injured due to another person’s negligence, call Aaron House at 816-875-4260 today for a free consultation.

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