Lawyer for Drunk Driving Accidents in Texas
It does not take a rocket scientist to recognize and understand the dangers of drunk driving. Statistics strewn about the internet confirm that drunk driving crashes and intoxicated driving crashes are a serious problem for users of the roadways. In 2016, law enforcement officers reported there were 14,313 drunk driving crashes in Texas, and another 3,543 impaired driving crashes where a driver was under the influence of drugs. Law enforcement officers also reported 9,445 crashes where a driver had been drinking, and an additional 444 crashes where a driver had been taking medication.
The purpose of this article is to help a drunk driving crash victim understand how drunk driving crashes and impaired driving crashes are different from other types of car crashes, and what a drunk driving crash victim can do to make sure their legal rights are protected in the event they are injured by the drunk or intoxicated driver.
I. How is Personal Injury Law Different in Drunk Driving Crashes?
In a typical car crash, the injury victim is required to demonstrate the other driver was negligent in their conduct that caused the crash. Simply put, the victim must prove the other driver was careless, and failed to operate their vehicle prudently or safely. Once this is proven, the personal injury victim can seek compensation for their economic and non-economic damages. A thorough explanation of what compensatory damages a personal injury victim can seek after a car crash can be found here. In a drunk driving crash, the personal injury victim can often demonstrate the drunk driver was more than simply negligent, but reckless or grossly negligent. When the victim can prove the drunk driving crash was caused by reckless or grossly negligent conduct, the victim can, in addition to compensatory damages, seek additional punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages, which are limited to the amount needed to compensate the personal injury victim for their actual losses, punitive damages are designed to penalize the drunk or intoxicated driver for causing a drunk driving crash because of their highly dangerous conduct.
Under the current law in Texas, the drunk driver and the drunk driver’s insurance company may be held responsible for paying for the compensatory damages and punitive damage the drunk driver would otherwise be liable for. So, by proving the crash was related to drunk or intoxicated driving, the personal injury victim can dramatically increase the overall value of their personal injury claim.
II. Is it Easy to Prove Intoxication in a Drunk Driving Crash?
Proving intoxication in a drunk driving crash can be difficult and depends on the circumstances of each case. Sometimes, when the intoxicated driver is not severely injured after the drunk driving crash, the police will perform a series of field sobriety tests and obtain breath or blood samples to demonstrate the driver’s level of intoxication. In those instances, the police officer will usually note the intoxication in the crash report, and prepare certain official documents like a probable cause affidavit or arrest warrant that outline the facts supporting an allegation that the driver was drunk. These documents can be extremely useful in helping prove reckless conduct in a drunk driving crash.
Sometimes, proving intoxication in a drunk driving crash can be more difficult and time consuming. For example, if the intoxicated driver is seriously injured, they will likely be transported to the hospital for medical attention. In that instance, law enforcement will typically seek to obtain a blood sample from the drunk driver in order to prove the driver’s level of intoxication. It can take a significant amount of time for this process to occur, meaning significant delays in the injury victim’s ability to prove they were involved in a drunk driving crash.
Additionally, obtaining the governmental documents that help prove the driver was intoxicated can be difficult. While governmental records are usually open to the public, this is not the case for certain records relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation, including drunk driving crash investigations. So, the drunk driving crash investigation can itself cause significant delays in the injury victim’s ability to prove that intoxication played a role in the crash.
Of course, in some circumstances, the drunk driver will flee the scene following a crash. It is not uncommon for the drunk driver to evade police for sufficient time to allow the intoxication to subside, which means law enforcement and the drunk driving crash victim lose valuable evidence of the driver’s intoxication. In those circumstances, the drunk driving crash victim and law enforcement must seek to prove the driver was intoxicated by using evidence other than the drunk driver’s blood alcohol concentration or obvious impairment.
Often times, the best way for a drunk driving crash victim to prove the other driver was intoxicated is by filing a lawsuit against the suspected drunk driver and gathering evidence through discovery tools. For example, the drunk driving crash victim can seek to take the drunk driver’s deposition, obtain evidence of where the driver had been drinking, and learn who the drunk driver had been drinking with. Of course, the drunk driver will often times attempt to block or disrupt discovery efforts by “pleading the 5th” and refusing to provide pertinent information about their intoxication. In these circumstances, the drunk driving crash victim might be forced to wait until the drunk driver’s criminal case has resolved before the victim can obtain this information. This is sometimes the most prudent course of action.
III. What other legal rights belong to a drunk driving crash victim?
Beyond seeking compensatory and punitive damages, a drunk driving crash victim has other legal rights under Texas law. First, the drunk driving crash victim qualifies for benefits under the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund. This fund, administered by the Texas Office of the Attorney General, helps alleviate financial burdens for crime victims, including drunk driving crash injury victims. For example, the drunk driving crash victim can seek reimbursement of medical bills, lost wages, and a variety of other economic losses to help alleviate the burdens that can follow a drunk driving crash. However, if the drunk driving crash victim subsequently recovers money from an insurance company, the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund will be paid back.
Next, the drunk driving crash victim has rights under the Texas Crime Victims’ Rights Act. By coordinating with the local District or County Attorney’s office where the criminal charges are pending, the drunk driving crash victim can, among other things, seek protection from harm that comes with cooperating in prosecution efforts, be informed about relevant criminal proceedings involving the drunk or intoxicated driver, receiving information about the criminal process relating to the drunk driver, and provide a victim impact statement that can be used against the drunk driver that can be used in the criminal process.
Depending on the circumstances of each case, the Crime Victims Compensation Fund and the Crime Victims’ Rights Act can be used strategically to help the victim in a drunk driving injury crash.
IV. What is the role of a personal injury lawyer in a drunk driving crash case?
Because the law attached to drunk and impaired driving crashes differs tremendously from the law attached to most other car crashes, a personal injury lawyer can help the drunk driving crash victim put together a strategy that maximizes the victim’s recovery from the drunk driver, while helping the victim express their voice in the criminal proceedings that follow. Because punitive damages are available to drunk driving crash victims, and the amount of available punitive damages depends, in part, on the victim’s compensatory damages, a personal injury lawyer should educate the drunk driving crash victim on how to best ensure the victim is taking the proper steps to identify the extent of their losses so the case can be handled properly.
Like any personal injury case, valuable evidence or drunk or intoxicated driving can be lost or destroyed if timely steps are not taken to make sure the evidence is preserved. By talking to a personal injury lawyer, a drunk driving crash victim can make sure they are not taking steps to harm or weaken their case.