All car accidents are unfortunate and upsetting, especially when someone else is to blame for the crash. No matter what steps you take to drive responsibly and stay safe, your day can always turn upside down due to someone else’s lack of responsibility. This is true when another driver makes a careless mistake. It is even more angering when someone else has made a conscious choice to get behind the wheel after drinking, deliberately breaking the law.
When you or a loved one suffers injuries due to a drunk driver, you have legal rights. Justice does not just mean that the driver loses their license and goes to jail. Justice also means that you receive financial compensation for your injuries. First, you must contact an attorney who could help you through the legal process. You want a firm with a long track record of helping injured clients and their families.
Strict Arizona Laws Do Not Deter Drunk Driving
Arizona has very tough laws against drunk driving. Even first offenders are required to install an interlock ignition device (something that happens on the second offense in nearly all other states). DUI offenders are required to serve at least ten days in jail for the first offense, and there is a minimum 90-day sentence for a second offense. Arizona has a seven-year lookback, meaning that two DUIs in seven years mean three months in prison.
However, the harsh penalties still do not eliminate the problem of DUI in the Phoenix area. Alcohol remains a factor in far too many crashes in the state. Recently, the police cited alcohol in 4,740 crashes in the state in one year. There were also 178 fatal crashes in the state involving alcohol.
The strict laws have made some difference, as DUI arrest rates in the state recently dropped. Arizona ranks 32nd overall in the country in terms of the number of DUI arrests.
In addition, there are a growing number of crashes that involve illegal drugs. In a recent year, there were nearly 800 accidents in the state where one driver was under the influence of illegal drugs or marijuana.
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Why Drunk Driving Accidents Cause Serious Injury and Death
Drunk driving crashes have a far higher fatality rate than other automobile accidents. Further, the injuries that other drivers will suffer are, on average, more severe.
The reasons include:
- Drunk drivers are traveling at a far higher speed
- Impaired motorists are driving extremely recklessly
- Other motorists on the road cannot anticipate and take evasive action to avoid the crash
- Car accidents tend to be far worse when one driver loses control of their car
The Difference Between the Criminal and Civil Legal Processes
The civil lawsuit in a drunk driving case is different from the criminal charges that the driver faces in court. You have the legal ability to file a lawsuit against the responsible driver, even if they are going to jail for the crime. The law does not keep you from being paid for your injuries just because someone receives a conviction.
The two legal processes, though, are different from each other. This is not to say that there is not some overlap. If the driver was convicted of the charges, that conviction could be used as evidence in your civil case, although it does not automatically win the case for you.
At the same time, there are different standards of proof necessary for a criminal conviction and civil liability.
The burdens of proof in each case are as follows:
- In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
- In a civil case, the plaintiff must prove that the facts giving rise to a defendant’s liability are more likely than not to have happened.
You can still win a civil lawsuit, even if the driver gets acquitted of drunk driving charges, because there is a lower standard of proof necessary. While you should pay very close attention to the criminal process involving the responsible driver, this should not necessarily determine whether you seek financial compensation.
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Insurance Companies Will Make Your Life Difficult if You File a Claim
It is more likely than not that an insurance company will not want to deny your claim after a drunk driving accident. They know that things will not go well in front of a jury, and they want to stay out of court. However, this does not mean that they will play nicely when it comes to compensating you.
Insurance companies will use every trick to avoid paying you what you legally deserve. Even if they readily admit liability in the case, they will not offer you enough money to cover your damages.
They could use the following tactics to get out of making full payment:
- Starting with a very low settlement offer to see what you will accept and drag out the process
- Taking as much time as they can to raise settlement offers, knowing full well that you need the money
- Continuously requesting more information to make things harder for you
- Underestimating your damages in any way that they can
- Surveilling you to gain information to dispute some of your damage claims
Never underestimate the ability of an insurance company to do everything that they can to delay your check and reduce it.
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We Will Guide You Through the Legal Process When You Suffered Injuries by a Drunk Driver
You will need to think carefully about how and where you pursue compensation for a drunk driving crash. We will review your case and give you advice on whether to start with the claims process or by filing a lawsuit against the driver.
Either way, you can still negotiate a settlement agreement. Chances are that your case will not go to trial because very few personal injury lawsuits ever do. However, you have the legal right to have your case heard by a jury if necessary to get the right amount of money.
If you go through the claims process, you must have a tough attorney who can cut through the chase and hold the insurance company accountable. At Zanes Law Injury Lawyers, we have earned a reputation as the firm that insurance companies think twice before using hardball tactics against our clients. They know that we will not hesitate to act. Insurance companies know who they are dealing with because lawyers are in front of them often.
What Happens When the Drunk Driver Does Not Stop or Have Enough Insurance?
Sometimes, the driver does not stop after a drunk driving accident. They may be trying to avoid liability, or they may be so drunk that they do not realize that they hit someone. This does not mean that you are out of luck when it comes to recovering financial compensation.
You have the legal right to file a claim against your own auto insurance when there is no other policy against which to file a claim or the other driver does not have enough insurance coverage to pay for your injuries. However, you should not make the mistake of thinking that your own insurance company is out to help you just because you are their customer.
Even when you file a claim against your own policy, you must still fight for every penny that you get. Insurance companies do not have loyalty to their own customers, so you will still have to go through the negotiation process. They will not treat you any better just because you have been paying them premiums for years.
Punitive Damages in a Drunk Driving Lawsuit
You may even be eligible to receive punitive damages after your drunk driving accidents. Punitive damages are usually very rare in a car accident case. It takes quite a bit for a jury to be angry enough to want to send a message to the driver. Even reckless conduct is ordinarily not enough for a jury to assess punitive damages. However, when a driver gets behind the wheel drunk and causes serious bodily injury, it may be enough. Insurance companies do not pay punitive damages, so you will need to take your case to a jury.
Filing a Lawsuit Against a Bar or Restaurant Under Arizona Dram Shop Laws
There is a unique feature to drunk driving accidents that allows you to recover financially from the establishment that served the driver before the accident. Like other states, Arizona has dram shop laws that allow injured motorists and their families to hold a restaurant or bar accountable when they continue to serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person.
It does not even need to be a bar that served the alcohol. If the driver was drinking at someone else’s house, the social host might have to pay damages if they served the alcohol to an underage driver. Thus, if a teenage drunk driver was consuming at a house party, the host may be liable. This particular rule does not apply to drivers who are of legal age.
Dram shop laws allow you to recover from another insurance policy. If a restaurant is involved, it could also mean that you could file a lawsuit against a company. The ability to file another lawsuit means that you may not need to file an underinsured motorist claim against your own car insurance.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit After a Drunk Driving Crash
Legal experience makes a difference.
You cannot expect to receive the same amount of money if you:
- Do not know how much your claim is worth
- Do not know how to handle the insurance company
If you are reading this after you have lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, you may have the legal right to obtain compensation for your loss. Arizona has a wrongful death law that allows certain family members to file a lawsuit when someone has died.
- A spouse
A family can recover financial compensation for everything that they lost when their loved one died.
Losing a family member causes burdens, including:
- The loss of the financial support that they would have provided for the rest of their working career
- The loss of their emotional support because of the role that they played in the family
- Missing out on a close, loving relationship
- Losing physical companionship (from a spouse)
A wrongful death settlement will pay for all of these damages. It is essential to know how much your case is worth, so you are not in the position of taking whatever the insurance company offers.
How a Lawyer Can Recover Compensation for You
You cannot simply trust the process to get you a check for your injuries after a drunk driving crash. Your lawyer will perform important tasks that you are likely not ready to handle on your own, especially after you suffered injuries in an accident.
- Investigating the accident itself and obtaining evidence that the other driver was drunk at the time of the crash
- Gathering all of the documentation necessary to submit an insurance claim
- Presenting your claim to the insurance company
- Negotiating with the insurance company and demanding the money that you deserve
- Advising you whether to accept any settlement offered or to file a lawsuit
- Representing you in court if you need to file a lawsuit
It may be difficult to begin the legal process, especially when you are dealing with an injury or a loss. Starting is an absolute necessity to receive financial compensation. The difficulty of dealing with the process is exactly why you need an experienced lawyer.
Our firm will handle all of the details of the process for you while giving you realistic legal advice aimed at maximizing your compensation. You can tend to your medical care or your family while we fight for you. Call us today or reach us online to schedule your free initial consultation.