Oct 26 2020

5 Steps to Take if You're Hit by a Drunk Driver

By Attorney Matthew Willis / In Personal Injury

Here’s a sobering statistic: according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1 in 3 Americans will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime. The fallout from a drunk driving accident can have massive consequences for anyone involved. Like any major personal injury, a drunk driving incident can lead to serious mental, physical, and financial harm. The best way to attend to all these issues at once is to make sure that you take the legal road to ensure that you get all the compensation that you need. In theory, one would think an obvious drunk driving case means an easy win for you in court. However, that doesn’t necessarily always happen. When a drunk driver hits you, you need to follow best practices in the moment and during the case for the best chance of a resolution.

1. Managing the Incident
So, what should you do when you get in an accident and the other driver is drunk or impaired? The first thing you want to do is make sure that everyone is safe. Then call the police. The next step is making sure the drunk driver is still present when the police get there. In some cases, you may think that you’re okay if you get the drunk driver to give you their information before leaving. However, in reality, the police need to actually see their state of intoxication in order to document it.

It’s possible you may have a drunk driver who is belligerent or violent in the aftermath of the accident. If this is the case, be polite and limit your conversation with them. Avoid discussing fault. Try to get video evidence, either with your own phone or that of a bystander. This is key if you want to file a civil lawsuit for damages later on. If you have no evidence, the driver may try to deny they were drunk/impaired in the first place. Sometimes, a drunk driver will flee the scene of the accident. In this situation, try remember as much information as possible, including their license plate number (if possible) and the make and model of the vehicle.

When the police arrive, many people assume that their work is done and that the police will do all the work of getting essential information from witnesses. However, this is not always the case, especially if no one was seriously injured or killed. Always do your own legwork with witnesses as well.

2. Seek Medical Attention
Another area where you want to be proactive is with any medical issues that come up. When you are part of a drunk driving accident, always go to the emergency room for a medical evaluation, even if you don’t suspect that you’ve been injured. Partially, this is due to the nature of adrenaline. Adrenaline can cause you to ignore potential injuries in the wake of an accident. If the doctors examine you and don’t find anything wrong, they may discharge you and tell you to go to your primary doctor. Be sure to follow their directives.

3. Consult with a Personal Injury Attorney
Before you speak with the insurance company regarding your accident, it is important to contact an experienced Personal Injury attorney for a free consultation. Hiring a personal injury lawyer to help with your case is your best chance at obtaining the amount of compensation that you deserve. 
Your attorney's sole job is to work on your behalf and fight the insurance company, in court if necessary, to obtain the best possible outcome for you. 

4. Get Involved in the Criminal Process if Necessary
Something that you should be aware of is that any civil case you file is going to be different than criminal cases against the driver set by the state's prosecutor. Any progression in the criminal case is a boon for your civil case. This applies to both cases against the driver and settings, like a bar where they were allowed to drive from. Because of this, if a prosecutor wants to speak with you, talk to your own legal professional first, but be prepared to cooperate. Be sure that any testimony you provide is as truthful as possible.

5. Think Carefully Before Accepting a Settlement
Most people pursue a lawsuit in order to cover issues like lost income, medical bills, and other issues. However, don’t let your desperation force you to take the first option you see. You and your legal representation should have a discussion on the initial offer to determine your best option. It’s also important to make sure you get the full scale of physical or financial hardship incurred before you agree on a settlement. Why is this so important? A lot of the time, the insurer of the drunk driver will try to cut down on how much they have to pay. So a smaller settlement works in their favor, not yours. You should also be aware that you may be entitled to punitive damages from the drunk driver in addition to compensatory damages.

How so? If you were to take an early settlement, you would be required to sign a release of liability before getting any money. This release means that you wouldn’t be able to make any injury claims stemming from the accident. No matter what the nature of your medical fallout, you would be completely responsible. The scenario many people dread here is assuming that they are safe, but end up having problems later on from the incident, leaving them with huge medical bills and not enough settlement money to cover them. Because of this, when you look at settlements, you need to consider your lost pay, medical expenses, and status regarding medical conditions. 

As mentioned before, if a criminal conviction is leveled against the driver in your accident, this helps your chances. Insurance companies understand that if a civil case progresses to a jury, that makes you more sympathetic.

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