Many inebriated drivers mistakenly believe that a single drink won’t affect their ability to operate their vehicles, but evidence continuously shows the devastating impact of alcohol on critical thinking skills. Unfortunately, young children are among the leading victims of DWI crashes in Phoenix.
Drunk drivers are unpredictable and deadly. They often leave their victims suffering from disabling injuries or their families struggling with devastating losses. Because Arizona criminalizes driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, experienced drunk driving accident lawyers might help victims or their families recover substantial compensation following DWI crashes.
Connect with the compassionate Phoenix DUI injury advocates at Zanes Law Injury Lawyers by contacting us to schedule a free drunk driving accident consultation.
How Each Alcoholic Drink Increases Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
Alcohol-impaired driving accounts for nearly one-third of all traffic-related fatalities in the United States. Authorities arrest over 1 million drivers for DUIs annually, but over 100 million drivers admit to driving drunk each year. Studies further indicate that repeat offenders—those with multiple DUI convictions—account for the majority of serious drunk driving accidents. And those with more alcohol in their systems are more likely to crash and injure other people.
Most drunk driving laws refer to the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Breathalyzer and blood tests generally allow authorities to estimate BAC, which typically falls anywhere between 0.01 and 0.25.
Although everyone processes alcohol differently, BAC converts to standard drinks (one 12 ounce beer, 1.5-ounce shot, or five-ounce glass of wine) as follows:
- 02 percent – about two standard drinks
- 05 percent – about three standard drinks
- 08 percent (presumed drunk driving) – about four standard drinks
- 10 percent – about five standard drinks
- 15 percent – about seven standard drinks
- Above 0.2 percent – binge drinking and extreme inebriation
Importantly, BAC spikes when alcohol enters the bloodstream through the digestive system. This means it typically takes anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours for drunk drivers to experience the full effects of their alcohol consumption. This delay often gives drivers the window of sobriety they need to get behind the wheel before they lose physical and cognitive function. Drunk drivers may feel levelheaded and assume it’s safe to drive, but this simply isn’t true.
Just one drink can have a devastating impact on the driver’s ability to:
- Track moving targets
- React to outside stimuli, such as brake lights or stop signs
- Perceive emergencies
- Control muscles
- See clearly
- Read and process road signs
- Make critical judgments
Further, drunk drivers often feel extremely relaxed and experience reduced inhabitations. This leads to increased instances of reckless driving, unsafe lane changes, and speeding. It also lessens the driver’s overall fear of consequences and, as such, incentive to follow vehicle and traffic laws. The law criminalizes driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs regardless of the driver’s underlying BAC.
Overview of Arizona Drunk Driving Laws
Three distinct laws criminalize drunk driving in Phoenix, but DUI accidents frequently involve multiple legal violations.
In most cases, investigators will charge the offender with one of the following crimes:
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI)—Title 28-1381 criminalizes operating or controlling any vehicle if the driver is even slightly impaired by drugs or alcohol. The driver’s BAC is not dispositive. While courts may presume that a driver with a BAC below 0.05 was not driving drunk, additional evidence may prove otherwise, such as video of the driver slurring his speech or swerving. Alternatively, courts may legally assume the driver was driving drunk if his BAC was above 0.08.
- Extreme DUI—Title 28-1382 punishes offenders caught driving with a BAC above 0.15. This means the offender likely consumed over seven standard alcoholic drinks before getting behind the wheel. Most drivers cause serious and immediate accidents when they drive with this BAC level.
- Aggravated DUI—Many multi-vehicle accidents in Phoenix involve aggravated DUI charges. Title 28-1383 criminalizes reckless DUIs, which include those occurring because the driver operated the vehicle on the wrong side of the highway, and DUIs charged to repeat offenders.
- Aggravated Assault with a Motor Vehicle – When the DUI results in serious or catastrophic personal injuries to passengers (especially minors), pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicle occupants, prosecutors may charge drunk drivers with vehicular aggravated assault under Title 13-1204. Motor vehicles are considered deadly weapons in Arizona.
- Vehicle Manslaughter—Fatal drunk driving accidents generally result in manslaughter charges under Title 13-1103. It is unlawful to cause another’s death through reckless actions, and driving under the influence generally qualifies as reckless conduct.
Additional traffic charges associated with DUI accidents often include speeding, unsafe lane changes, failing to keep a safe distance, distracted driving, failing to yield, and failing to obey traffic signals. Because driving under the influence is criminal, victims of DUI accidents might demand financial damages in both criminal and civil court. Experienced drunk driving accident lawyers might help claimants navigate this complex process and obtain accelerated liability determinations following criminal proceedings.
Using Criminal DUI Charges to Obtain Financial Compensation in Phoenix
Drunk driving accidents resulting in criminal convictions generally give victims the right to demand restitution in criminal court. Restitution is financial compensation the judge orders the offender to pay the victim, typically for medical bills and property damage. However, auto insurance companies do not cover restitution judgments.
Convicted offenders must generally pay restitution out-of-pocket, which often results in limited awards to devastated victims or their families. As such, experienced DUI accident injury lawyers might help claimants recover financial compensation through personal injury litigation and/or the insurance claims process.
Filing Drunk Driving Lawsuits in Phoenix
Every criminal act has a corresponding civil claim. Attorneys may quickly file civil litigation against the drunk driver, the vehicle owner, and/or the driver’s employer if he was on duty. Some cases even support claims against shop owners who unlawfully sold alcohol to drivers under 21.
Most DUI civil lawsuits involve claims for negligence, gross negligence (recklessness), assault, or wrongful death. Claimants have two years from the crash to file personal injury litigation, and families have two years from the date of death to file wrongful death claims. While these dates often coincide following fatal DWI crashes in Phoenix, many seriously injured claimants die in the months following the accident.
Experienced plaintiff’s lawyers might use DUI, assault, or manslaughter convictions to obtain accelerated liability judgments in personal injury lawsuits. Legal professionals call them negligence per se cases. These accelerated judgments—called summary judgment—trigger the driver’s insurance coverage and often pressure reluctant insurance adjusters into increasing their settlement offers. Even if the offender was never convicted or charged, injured claimants might still demand personal injury damages in civil court.
Settling DUI Injury Lawsuits with Liable Auto Insurers
Most viable auto accident cases, including drunk driving claims, settle with the liable driver’s auto insurer. However, insurance adjusters will do everything possible to mitigate their employer’s financial responsibility. This may include tricking injured claimants into accepting lowball settlements or convincing them not to contact personal injury counsel.
Once you retain a dedicated drunk driving injury lawyer in Phoenix, adjusters can no longer contact you without your lawyer’s consent. This protects struggling claimants during the medical recovery process.
Most attorneys begin settlement negotiations by sending detailed settlement letters and demands to the liable insurance company. These demands frequently include evidence establishing liability – the police report, BAC test results, photographs, and criminal conviction records – medical records showing your injuries, lost wage records, and expert opinions about your damages. DWI injury lawyers may then negotiate with the liable insurer, which may result in policy payouts without the need for litigation.
Alternative Options for Recovering Damages After DWI Crashes
Arizona only requires drivers to carry $25,000 in bodily injury insurance per person, with a $50,000 maximum per accident. Because many drivers carry minimum coverage, the most seriously injured claimants need additional compensation. An attorney may help victims of drunk driving accidents recover money from their personal uninsured/underinsured motorist policies, which cover all passengers and even household members.
Compassionate injury lawyers might also help families obtain SSDI, apply for employer-sponsored disability insurance, or appeal health insurance denials. If you need additional compensation, you might qualify to obtain damages from Phoenix’s Crime Victims’ Compensation Board. This state-sponsored program provides victims of disabling drunk driving crashes with compensation for certain lost wages and medical expenses. The dedicated Phoenix personal injury litigators at Zanes Law Injury Lawyers know how to maximize their clients’ financial recovery after terrible DUI accidents.
Damages Available for Phoenix Drunk Driving Accident Injuries
Drunk drivers cause some of Arizona’s most devastating mass-casualty traffic crashes.
Victims commonly suffer from the following life-altering injuries:
- Paralysis (paraplegia or quadriplegia)
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Third-degree burns
- Punctured lungs
- Organ failure
- Multiple herniated discs
- Broken necks
- Dislocated shoulders
- Shattered knees
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Nerve damage
Many of these debilitating conditions result in fatalities, especially injuries to the brain stem or spine. Disabling conditions also cause numerous secondary conditions stemming from necessary treatments and immobilization. Phoenix claimants severely injured by drunk drivers commonly suffer from depression, anxiety, bedsores, infections, gastrointestinal issues, chronic fatigue, kidney failure, and fibromyalgia. These conditions often impact those around them, especially the spouses, parents, and children providing care.
Compensable Losses in Arizona Personal Injury Cases
While our dedicated Phoenix drunk driving accident lawyers cannot cure your injuries, we might help families obtain needed financial relief to pay for private nursing care and cover additional expenses.
In Arizona, following a DUI car, truck, or motorcycle crash, you might recover:
- Economic Damages—These awards cover the claimant’s direct economic losses (past and future) stemming from the accident. Common economic damages include hospital and surgical costs, doctors and rehabilitation expenses, medical equipment and transportation costs, lost wages, lost fringe benefits, nursing care, and household assistance. Every claimant suffers from unique economic losses that experienced experts can help identify and calculate during settlement negotiations.
- Non-Economic (Pain & Suffering) Damages—Victims of Arizona drunk driving accidents have the right to demand compensation for their non-economic losses like pain and suffering. These damages may include awards for physical pain, emotional and mental turmoil, loss of spousal companionship, lost enjoyment of past activities and hobbies, lost enjoyment of life, frustration, and daily inconvenience. Insurers generally calculate these damages based on the severity of your injuries and total economic damages. The more disabling the injury, the higher your potential pain and suffering damages.
- Punitive Damages—Because driving drunk qualifies as reckless driving in Phoenix, injured claimants might demand punitive damages directly from the drunk driver. These damages punish the offender for unacceptable conduct, and juries may generally award them in gross negligence, wrongful death, and assault cases. Claimants might receive these awards in addition to compensation for their economic and non-economic damages.
Eligible claimants have multiple options for maximizing their DUI injury compensation, but they frequently settle claims too soon or give up after pushback from insurers. Qualified personal injury lawyers in Phoenix might help families calculate and maximize the value of their drunk driving injury claims based on available insurance, liable parties, and the defendant’s resources.
Phoenix Drunk Driving Accident FAQ
Below are brief answers to some questions that our clients frequently ask us when they suffered injuries in a drunk driving accident. To discuss your case, please contact our Phoenix drunk driving accident attorneys directly.
Can I Get Punitive Damages from the Drunk Driver?
Punitive damages are very rare in any type of personal injury case. They are only reserved for some of the worst examples of conduct by a defendant that a jury wants to punish. That said, drunk driving is a bad example of illegal and reckless conduct. We cannot predict with certainty what a jury may do if your case goes to trial, but we can seek punitive damages in your case.
The higher the defendant’s blood alcohol content, the more likely the jury is to want to send a message to the defendant. Note that you will likely not receive punitive damages if you settled your case at the claims stage. Insurance companies do not pay punitive damages as part of a settlement. Punitive damages will greatly increase the amount of your jury award, but it can take time to collect the judgment if you can fully collect at all.
Will an Insurance Company Pay for a Drunk Driving Accident Settlement?
Some people worry that the driver’s insurance company will not pay for a drunk driving accident settlement because it involves intentional criminal behavior on the part of the responsible driver. Thankfully, they do not need to fear.
Even though the driver intentionally did something wrong, a drunk driving accident is still a motor vehicle crash. Thus, an insurance company should cover the losses. If they try to get out of paying your claim, you can file a lawsuit. If for some reason, the driver’s insurance will not pay, you still deserve compensation. Your own auto insurance will need to cover your damages. Either way, you are legally entitled to compensation for a drunk driving accident.
What Happens if the Driver Did Not Stop or Did Not Have Insurance?
You should have underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage as part of your auto insurance. This should give you some amount of payment from your own insurance company, regardless of whether the other driver had insurance. The key is to call the police to the scene of the accident and get a police report. This will document that you were the victim of a hit-and-run accident.
If the other driver was under or uninsured, you will file a claim against your own insurance company. However, be careful about thinking of an insurance company as loyal to you in any way just because you pay premiums. They will still play the same games as any other insurance company. You will still need to negotiate for every penny that you get, and a lawyer who will fight for you is a requirement.
Does the Other Driver’s Conviction Mean that I Automatically Win My Civil Lawsuit?
Not necessarily, but it will be helpful. If the other driver pleads guilty to the crime or receives a conviction from a jury, it is admissible as evidence in your civil case. There is a higher standard of proof in the criminal process than in civil cases, so this will be important evidence in your case. You will still need to go through a separate legal process for a civil case because these are two different parts of the law. Importantly, you can even file a civil lawsuit against the driver if they received an acquittal of drunk driving charges. Again, the burden of proof is different.
In a criminal case, law enforcement will need to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high standard to meet. In a civil case, your burden of proof is that you must show that the driver was responsible for the crash by a preponderance of the evidence. This translates to the fact that it is more likely than not that your version of events is true, and the driver is legally responsible for your injuries. However, injured victims can use evidence of a criminal conviction to prove negligence.
You will not need to wait for the criminal action to wrap up before you begin the compensation process. However, drunk driving prosecutions generally move quickly, so the criminal process may be over before you wrap up the claims process.
Do the Same Legal Rules Apply if the Driver Was on Drugs?
Drivers are criminally liable when they drive under the influence of any substance. A .08 blood alcohol level is evidence enough where impairment is presumed, and it does not matter whether the driver has been affected by the alcohol or not. However, the driver can still be drunk and responsible for the accident if they had a BAC below that. This is another way of saying that impairment can be a basis of liability, no matter what substance the driver ingested.
Motorists cannot legally take any kind of drug before they get behind the wheel. Even if they took legally prescribed drugs, they can still be responsible for an accident if they were under the influence. The same goes for cannabis products, even if the driver legally took them. If a driver caused an accident when they were under the influence, police can administer a test to figure out whether they had drugs in their system.
What Happens if My Loved One Died Due to a Drunk Driver?
If your family member lost their life in a DUI accident, your family will have the right to file a lawsuit. The cause of action will be a wrongful death case. This is another type of personal injury case that will have different damages than a lawsuit filed by a surviving accident victim. Certain family members will file this type of case according to an order of precedence that Arizona law establishes.
In wrongful death cases, the family will receive compensation for what they lost when their loved one passed away.
Their compensation can include:
- The wages that their loved one would earn had they lived
- The family’s grief and trauma at losing their loved one
- The loss of their loved one’s presence and support
- The loss of their family member’s love and companionship
- Loss of consortium for the spouse
In addition, the estate can also bring a survival action. This compensation is for what the deceased person experienced before their death. The payment will be greater if their loved one suffered greatly before their death. It will also include the medical bills for any treatment or surgeries that they received after the accident.
Who Can File a Drunk Driving Lawsuit?
Anyone who suffered injuries due to the drunk driver can file a lawsuit. Most often, the person hurt is another driver. Possible plaintiffs in a drunk driving accident lawsuits can include:
- Passengers in your car
- Passengers in the drunk driver’s car (see below)
The drunk driver’s passengers may have a more difficult time filing a lawsuit if there is evidence that they willingly got into a car with a driver that they knew was drunk. If you are an injured passenger, you may hesitate to sue the driver if they are a friend or a family member. However, it will be the insurance company that pays your claim. You will only be giving up money to which you are legally entitled. The driver should understand that they were at fault, especially when they were under the influence at the time of the accident.
How Much Can I Receive in a Drunk Driving Accident Case?
This all depends on your injuries and if you settle your case. Insurance companies should be very careful about trying to nickel and dime you in settlement negotiations. They should know that juries generally treat drunk drivers harshly since they chose to get behind the wheel inebriated. Therefore, you may get a more reasonable settlement offer in this type of case.
The question of damages is very specific to the facts of your case. For example, if you were a healthy 25-year-old before the accident, you may be able to receive a larger check than an older person. This is because you can earn more money throughout your lifetime, and you may also lose more enjoyment of life. In addition, you will have higher future medical bills and pain and suffering damages. It is up to your attorney to present the arguments why you fully deserve the damages that you are claiming.
What Should I Do if the Insurance Company Approaches Me Directly?
Refer them to us, because this could place your claim in danger. Usually, the insurance company will try to trick you into admitting to liability for the accident. The considerations are not the same for a drunk driving accident, where the other driver is clearly at fault. However, admitting to things like speeding or texting at the time of the accident can cut your recovery. This is why you do not want to talk to them about the accident.
In addition, they may try to get you to say something that can undercut your claim for damages. They may try to argue that your injuries are not as serious as you claim, and you, therefore, do not deserve as much money.
If the insurance company tries to call you, remember that you are under no obligation whatsoever to speak with them. If you have an attorney (and you should), simply refer them to your attorney and say no more. When dealing with an insurance company, the less you say, the better off you are.
If I Know that the Other Driver Caused the Crash, Why Do I Need a Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer?
Remember that proving liability is only part of what you need to do in a car accident claim. Even after it is apparent that someone else was responsible for the accident, you still must prove your damages and negotiate your claim. In other words, fault is just part of the equation. After that, you will still need to fight for the compensation that you deserve.
Your lawyer will handle the settlement negotiations with the insurance company. This is a task for someone with experience dealing with these companies and knowing how they operate. It requires an experienced professional who knows when the insurance company is trying to underpay your claim. The average person may not know what their claim is worth on their own without the help of an experienced professional.
How Else Can a Lawyer Help Me in My Case?
When you are dealing with intoxication, you need someone who can work with toxicology experts in case forensics are necessary. You may even need your own investigation to establish the extent of your damages. Your attorney can help translate and read the evidence about what substances were in the driver’s blood at the time of the accident and the extent of the intoxication. If your case goes to litigation, your attorney can get more information in discovery, including documentation of the at-fault driver’s motor vehicle records.
I Don’t Have Any Money. How Can I Pay for an Attorney?
At Zanes Law Injury Lawyers, our drunk driving accident attorneys receive payment differently than other lawyers. If you were going through a divorce, you would have to pay a retainer and then pay monthly attorney’s bills for the time that they spent on your case. You would owe the money regardless of the legal result of your case.
When you file a drunk driving accident lawsuit, we will put you under no obligation to pay a retainer or hourly charges. If there was one, many people will hesitate to stand up for their legal rights and seek compensation because of the financial risks. Here, our lawyers only receive payment if your case succeeds. If for some reason, you don’t recover compensation, you will not owe your lawyer money. This way, your lawyer is also investing their time in your case because they also risk not getting compensation.
Benefits of Retaining Phoenix Drunk Driving Injury Attorneys at Zanes Law Injury Lawyers
The legal complexities associated with DWI crashes leave many injured claimants struggling to understand their rights. Phoenix DUI accidents often trigger criminal prosecutions, insurance investigations, and personal injury lawsuits, which grieving families and accident victims can’t handle without help. Make no mistake that insurers may intentionally pressure you into dropping your claims or accepting insufficient settlement offers before the shock wears off.
Our dedicated Phoenix drunk driving accident attorneys might handle these claims while you recover, and we don’t get paid unless we recover needed compensation for our wrongfully injured clients. This fee structure—called a contingency fee arrangement—allows families to focus on getting well without worrying about expensive hourly legal fees.
We might even front all necessary litigation costs and expenses. Following DUI accidents, our lawyers frequently help victims navigate the criminal process, demand restitution, and recover quick damages from victim’s compensation funds. Contact the Phoenix drunk driving injury attorneys at Zanes Law Injury Lawyers to schedule your free and confidential case analysis by calling (602) 999-9999 or contacting us online.