Any auto accident comes with its headaches, especially if you are injured and someone else is at fault. Drunk driving accidents come with their own nuances that affect everything from the investigation to the trial.
Collect Different Evidence
As a driver involved in a crash, no one knows more about it than you right after a crash. If you are able, you might collect some evidence no one else will see, starting with the first words out of the drunk driver’s mouth.
After you call 911, if you are able to get out of your vehicle, get out and go talk to the other driver; if you cannot exit your vehicle, talk to the other driver from inside your vehicle, if possible. Like any accident, you should take photos of the damage to the vehicles and their positions in the roadway if you can. If you suspect the other driver is drunk, it is especially important to get them on camera shortly after the crash. There is no rule against recording someone without their knowledge, and the other driver is more likely to say something that will help your case if they do not know they are being recorded. One way to record without their knowledge is to put your phone in your shirt pocket while you talk to them. Note whether their speech is slurred, their eyes are red, or if they are off-balance. These are the types of things police officers look for during DUI investigations. If they are not talking much, ask them a few questions like where they were going or how they are feeling. The point is to get them talking on camera. This is important! It is always possible the police will take a long time to respond, and the drunk driver may sober up before the police arrive.
When the police arrive, be sure to tell them about any common signs of drunk driving, like if the other driver was swerving or changing their speed abruptly prior to the crash. If you notice the smell of alcohol, red/watery/glassy eyes, or poor balance from the other driver, do not be afraid to point it out to the officer. Police officers miss things sometimes! Make sure they see they know about evidence which could be crucial to your personal injury case.
Know that You May be a Witness to a Criminal Case
If the other driver is drunk, they will likely be charged with DUI. You will be one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. A prosecutor or investigator may call you for an interview, and you may have to testify in court. The important thing to remember is that the defense attorneys in your personal injury case may get the prosecutor’s notes or the transcript from your in-court testimony. It is very important that your recollection of the crash stays consistent between the two cases. Inconsistent testimony can be used to suggest you are lying about what really happened. Always be very careful with your words when explaining what happened, and do not forget that when you testify in the DUI case against the other driver, you are also testifying for your own case, in a way.
The DUI Case Will Affect Your Statute of Limitations
In most cases, you have until two years after the crash to file a lawsuit. In cases where the at-fault driver is given a citation, the deadline to file is “tolled,” or pushed back, until the citation is disposed of through a plea or payment of fines or a trial. Obviously, DUI charges are more complicated than speeding tickets; there is usually a more complicated investigation with more witnesses, and there is a greater chance the charge will go to a jury trial. Your statute of limitations may be tolled for an especially long time if you are injured by a drunk driver. If, for example, the at-fault driver is tried and convicted exactly one year after the crash, you will have up to three years after the crash to file a lawsuit. If it has been more than two years since you were injured by a drunk driver and you have not filed a lawsuit yet, do not give up! Talk to a lawyer, because your case may still be good.
Your Case Could Be Worth Much More
Insurance companies settle most cases before trial. Of course, sometimes they take their chances and have a trial. Normally, a jury determines the value of the case by awarding the cost of your medical bills plus money for pain and suffering. However, if you are injured by a drunk driver, you may be able to obtain punitive damages.
Punitive damages are meant to punish the at-fault driver, while other types of damages are meant to compensate you for your injuries. In Georgia, there is no limit to the amount of punitive damages you can recover from a drunk driver. That is why insurance companies evaluate cases as being more valuable when the at-fault driver was drunk. Drunk drivers are more likely to appear combative, irresponsible, and unlikeable during the crash investigation. In addition to hurting someone, the at-fault driver may look like an unapologetic fool on the responding officer’s video of the investigation.
Although jury awards are supposed to be guided by legal principles, the fact of the matter is that juries are more likely to help people they like and more likely to return big verdicts punishing people they do not like. Public opinion is well-settled on this point: nobody likes drunk drivers, especially when they hurt innocent people. Insurance companies know that they are taking a big risk when they send a drunk driver case to trial.
If you are ever injured by a drunk driver, call Rafi Law Firm in Atlanta as soon as possible so we can start working for you.