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Can I Sue A Drunk Driver?

Written by: Hagelgans and Veronis

There’s nothing wrong with having a good time during weekends or holidays. Unfortunately, some partiers drink too much and drive drunk sometimes resulting in tragic accidents.  The lawyers at Hagelgans & Veronis have the knowledge and resources to go after drunk drivers and their insurance companies.

Each lawyer in the firm has over 25 years of experience fighting drunk drivers who cause injury and death to innocent victims.  Hagelgans & Veronis has recovered over 250 million dollars for their clients in the past 20 years.

Because drunk driving is illegal, a drunk driver can be prosecuted in both criminal and civil courts.   Hagelgans & Veronis are experienced car accident lawyers who have pursued compensation for many persons and their families who have been injured or killed by a drunk driver in a civil lawsuit.

Did you know that these civil lawsuits can include damages for compensatory and sometimes punitive damages?

Compensatory damages are paid by the drunk driver’s insurance company to compensate the victim for his injuries and can include  damages for “pain and suffering”, lost income, unpaid medical bills and the loss of the injured person’s quality of life.

It can also compensate his family if the drunk driver’s actions result in the death of a loved one.  Punitive damages can sometimes be filed to punish the driver for driving drunk.  These damages are not covered by an insurance company but are paid by the driver himself if he has sufficient assets.

Limited or Full Tort Insurance and Your Legal Rights

Pennsylvania is a No-Fault state which means that a person’s own insurance pays for his medical bills first from his own insurance company regardless of who causes an accident.  These payments will be based on the amount of insurance a person purchased.

Pennsylvania law also has a tort system where a driver is required to elect either “Full Tort” or “Limited Tort” insurance when he purchases insurance.

Full Tort insurance gives an insured driver and his family the legal right to sue a responsible driver for any injuries suffered by that driver’s carelessness or negligence.   If a driver elects the cheaper “Limited Tort” insurance he limits his right to sue in some cases.

With “Limited Tort”, a driver or his family can sue for non-economic damages for “pain and suffering” only if he suffers “death”, “serious impairment of a bodily function” or “permanent serious disfigurement.”

There are notable exceptions to Limited Tort.  One exception is if the person who caused the accident is convicted of drunk driving or pleads guilty to it.  Call Hagelgans and Veronis for a free consultation to discuss the other exceptions to Limited Tort.

What Are Serious Injuries?

If you purchased limited-tort coverage, you need to know what Pennsylvania classifies as a serious injury. A serious injury, as defined by the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, is “a personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of bodily function, or permanent serious disfigurement.”

Unfortunately, the definition stops there. There is no list of serious injuries. Instead, the court debates and decides the seriousness of an injury.

If your injuries are serious, you can sue for medical bills, lost wages, and non-economic loses like pain and suffering.

Even if your injuries are not serious, you may still be able to sue. If you haven’t been compensated by an insurance company, or the policy holder’s limit doesn’t cover all of your expenses, you can file a civil suit to recover compensation.

Civil Suits Against Drunk Drivers

In most civil DUI cases in Pennsylvania, compensation will come from your insurance company if you have limited-tort coverage or the at-fault party’s insurance company if you have full-tort coverage.

You will likely win your case if the driver is convicted. Their insurance company will try to settle out of court before your civil case goes to trial.

In a civil suit, you can seek compensation for things like:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Property damage
  • Pain, suffering, and emotional damage, if you have full-tort coverage

Additionally, there are two Pennsylvania laws that can affect how much compensation you receive: comparative negligence rules and dram shop laws.

Pennsylvania’s Comparative Negligence Rule

Pennsylvania is a Comparative Negligence state which means that a person can only sue successfully for personal injury if he is not more than 50% at fault for an accident.  A person’s jury verdict or settlement is reduced by the percentage of fault which is attributable to a person who is suing for damages.  For example, if a jury awards $100,000, but finds that the Plaintiff (person suing) was 50% at fault, that person would receive a net award of $50,000.

Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Laws

A dram shop is an establishment that sells alcohol like bars and restaurants.  Pennsylvania law can hold such an establishment legally responsible for selling alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who then goes out and injures or kills an innocent person in a motor vehicle accident.

The experienced lawyers at Hagelgans & Veronis can explain what you will need to prove to pursue a dram shop case.  It is critical that you call us soon after an accident in that evidence can be lost if much time transpires from the time of your accident to your consultation with a lawyer.  Call us today for a free consultation.

Criminal Proceedings Against Drunk Drivers

Since drunk driving is illegal, the driver will face criminal charges whether you file a civil suit or not. The criminal case is meant to punish the at-fault driver, not compensate you for your damages.

While you won’t receive any money from a DUI conviction, it can help your case in civil court. You can help the police prove the driver was drunk by doing the following at the accident scene:

  • Listen for slurred speech or incoherent sentences.
  • Ask the police to conduct a Breathalyzer or field sobriety test.
  • Tell the police if you saw the driver use eye drops. This can be a sign of intoxication and/or drug use.
  • Let he police know if you saw the driver and any passengers switch seats after the accident.
  • Let the police know if you saw the driver throw away cans, bottles, or drug paraphernalia, or if there were open alcohol containers in their car.
  • Get a copy of the police report stating alcohol contributed to the accident.

Time Limitations for Filing Lawsuits

There is a strict time limitation for filing lawsuits called Statutes of Limitations.  For Wrongful Death and personal injury cases, you must file your case within two years of the death or injury suffered.    If you or a family member has been injured or killed by a drunk or careless driver, contact the law firm of Hagelgans & Veronis today for a free consultation to speak to an experienced lawyer.  We can be reached at (717) 295-7009.

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