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INJURED BY A DRUNK DRIVER IN NORTH CAROLINA?

Being involved in an accident is always a harrowing experience, but it becomes even more distressing when you realize the other driver was intoxicated. Bradley Law Group has successfully represented injured people for more than 20 years.  In that time, we have litigated drunk driving cases, mediated drunk driving cases, arbitrated drunk driving cases, etc.  Our experience has taught us that the steps you take following a drunk driving injury will often determine whether you receive a fair settlement or not.  This blog post aims to provide you with information that you need to maximize your settlement after being injured by a drunk driver.

WHAT CONSTITUTES “DRUNK DRIVING” IN NORTH CAROLINA?

A driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher is considered legally impaired. Blood alcohol concentrations decrease over time as the body metabolizes the alcohol.  Therefore, if you have been injured by a suspected drunk driver, time is of the essence.  Call 911 right away.  You don’t want the drunk driver’s BAC to drop into the legal range due to delay in contacting law enforcement.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE – MANY PEOPLE ARE INJURED IN DRUNK DRIVING ACCIDENTS

The North Carolina Department of Transportation data shows that more than 8,000 people were injured in drunk driving accidents in North Carolina in 2023.  There were also 12,146 alcohol-related crashes in North Carolina in 2023.  That’s an increase of 2.5% compared to 2022.  There were also 18,386 DWI arrests in North Carolina in 2023.  As you can see, drunk driving is a major problem in our state.    

ARE YOU STILL AT THE ACCIDENT SITE?

If you are reading this blog while still at the accident site, here’s a quick list of things to do:

  1. Immediately check yourself and others for injuries.
  2. If possible, move to a safe location away from traffic.
  3. Turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers and make sure everyone involved in the accident is out of harm’s way. 
  4. Call 911 to report the crash. 
  5. Seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing pain or other symptoms from the crash.
  6. If you can safely do so, take pictures of the vehicles and people involved in the collision, this will be helpful in your case.
  7. Make sure that the law enforcement officer knows that you were in one of the vehicles and that you are injured.  Be sure to explain any injuries. 

CONTACT BRADLEY LAW GROUP BEFORE SPEAKING WITH THE INSURANCE COMPANIES!

DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT, speak with any insurance companies before speaking with a lawyer.  Period.  It’s important to report all crashes to insurance companies in a timely manner, but it is CRITICAL that you speak with a lawyer first.  Remember, insurance companies are for-profit businesses.  They make money by paying injured people as little as possible.  When you call the insurance company, they will often record your telephone call and they will try to get information from you that will assist them in denying or devaluing your claim.  LET YOUR LAWYER SPEAK WITH THE INSURANCE COMPANY!  

DAMAGES THAT CAN BE CLAIMED AFTER BEING INJURED BY A DRUNK DRIVER

If you have been injured by a drunk driver, you are entitled to make a claim for both COMPENSATORY and PUNITIVE damages. 

Compensatory damages are meant to “compensate” you for losses you have suffered as a result of the drunk driver’s negligence.  Compensatory damages include:

  1. Medical bills
  2. Lost wages
  3. Pain and suffering
  4. Prescription bills
  5. Vehicle damage
  6. Mileage reimbursement (for medical appointments)
  7. Future medical expenses certified by your doctor
  8. Permanent disfigurement (scarring, burns, road rash, etc.)
  9. Future pain and suffering
  10. Permanent impairment / Permanent physical restrictions

Punitive damages are awarded to punish the drunk driver for their grossly negligent conduct.  North Carolina law recognizes the concept that punishment can be an effective deterrent.  Punitive damage awards in drunk driving cases are meant to teach the drunk driver a lesson so that they never drink and drive again.  Punitive damages can be awarded IN ADDITION TO compensatory damages.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE DRUNK DRIVER DOESN’T HAVE INSURANCE?

We can do a thorough search to determine if the drunk driver had car insurance.  (even if it’s not listed on the police accident report)  We can make a claim against the policy for the vehicle that the drunk driver was operating.  If the drunk driver was not the owner of the vehicle he was driving, then we can make a claim against the drunk driver’s car insurance policy as well.  We can claim both compensatory and punitive damages in either of these scenarios.

What if neither the car owner or the drunk driver have insurance?  Does that mean that we can’t help you?  No.  That just means that we will handle your case a little differently.  If you are injured by a drunk driver with no insurance, we can attempt to file an uninsured motorist claim.  Depending on the facts of your case, we can look for uninsured motorist coverage in several places:

  1. We can file an uninsured motorist claim with the insurance for the vehicle you were in at the time of the collision.  (This assumes you were not riding with the drunk driver)
  2. If there was no insurance on the car you were riding in, we can file an uninsured motorist claim on your own car insurance policy.  What??  That’s right.  If you have car insurance, we can make your claim to your own insurance company if no other insurance is available.
  3. If there was no insurance on the car that you were riding in and you did not have your own car insurance on the date of the collision, then we can look to see if you were living with a blood relative at the time of the collision.  If so, your relative’s car insurance policy should provide uninsured motorist coverage for you.  Really??  Yes.  Even if your relative’s car had nothing to do with the collision, the uninsured coverage should still be available to you.

WHAT IF THE DRUNK DRIVER DOESN’T HAVE ENOUGH INSURANCE TO PAY ALL OF MY DAMAGES?

If the drunk driver doesn’t have enough insurance to pay the full value of your case, your lawyer will search for possible Under-Insured Motorist coverage.  You may be eligible for this type of coverage through the insurance on the car you were riding in, your own car insurance or the car insurance of a blood relative living with you at the time of the collision.  Your attorney will be able to determine all applicable policies.

DIFFERENT COVERAGES = DIFFERENT DAMAGE CLAIMS

Whenever we are pursuing the drunk driver’s insurance (or the insurance for the vehicle he was operating) we have the ability to claim both compensatory and punitive damages.  However, when we are presenting an uninsured motorist or under-insured motorist claim, we can only pursue compensatory damages.  Obviously, we want to make a claim for all possible damages.  That’s why it’s important that your lawyer conducts a thorough coverage search to determine all possible avenues of recovery.

FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM

When you have been injured by a drunk driver, you will have a lot on your plate.  Injuries, possibly a wrecked car, medical expenses, missed work, etc.  It’s definitely not a good time.  Bradley Law Group can take care of many of the headaches associated with insurance claims.  We can help you with your medical treatment and make certain that you don’t unknowingly tank your case by saying something wrong to the insurance company.  Let us maximize your recovery and take care of the hassles so you can focus on healing and getting your life back together.  We never charge a legal fee until we get you paid.  We offer free consultations and can give you peace of mind. 

****All cases are unique and are evaluated independently. Past results are not a guarantee of future performance. This post does not form an attorney client relationship with the reader nor is it intended as legal advice. State laws are different regarding insurance coverages and their applicability. Bradley Law Group represents people involved in accidents in North Carolina.

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