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What Is the Impact of Alcohol or Drug Use on a Car Accident Lawsuit?

gavel about to smash a toy car.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, evidence of alcohol or drug use by either party is certain to impact the subsequent lawsuit. A car accident lawyer can evaluate the particulars of your case and advise you on how alcohol or drug use will affect your ability to recover compensation for your losses. As the laws vary by state, it’s best to speak to a personal injury attorney in Cheyenne, Casper, Jackson or Cody, Wyoming, if that’s your locality.

What Is the Impact of Alcohol or Drug Use on a Car Accident Lawsuit?

Almost a third of all road accident fatalities involve alcohol, and many more involve other substances that impair the driver’s ability to operate a car. Neither judges, juries, nor the law looks kindly upon anyone driving with alcohol or drugs in their system. When the at-fault driver was found to be impaired by alcohol or drugs, you’ll still need to prove their liability for your injuries, but the lawsuit might be impacted in a few other ways.

The process of litigation may be delayed, you may find it easier to persuade a jury if liability is disputed, the at-fault driver may lack insurance or funds to pay your damages in full, and you may be able to win punitive damages. Let’s look at each of these factors in more detail.

You Need to Prove the Liability of the Impaired Driver

If an impaired driver caused your accident, you may pursue civil litigation against them to recover damages for the costs of your medical bills, property damage, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses. However, for your lawsuit to be successful, you’d first need to prove that the other driver was responsible for the accident.

While an impaired driver may be breaking the law by getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol or drugs, that doesn’t apply directly to you and your rights. For the impaired driver to be liable for your injuries, they must have driven negligently or recklessly, thereby causing the crash that injured you. As with any car accident case, your lawsuit will hinge on presenting evidence that persuades the jury of the other driver’s responsibility for the crash.

Examples of Differing Causation in a Car Crash

If you were driving normally and an impaired driver suddenly made a left turn, cutting across your path, the fault for the ensuing crash would clearly lie with the other driver. Now imagine another situation where an impaired driver reached a traffic light and slowed at an ordinary and safe rate, but you were tailgating them. A resulting rear-end collision would be deemed your fault, even though the other driver was impaired.

In this second scenario, the other driver’s alcohol or drug use didn’t bear any influence on the accident itself. As the other driver didn’t cause the accident, they wouldn’t be held liable for it. They may well face criminal charges after the police arrive and discovered they were intoxicated, but they aren’t responsible for your losses.

The Jury May Be Biased Against the Impaired Driver

Around 95% of car accident cases are resolved with an out-of-court settlement. When a lawsuit and jury trial become necessary, it’s often because the other driver’s insurance company is either disputing liability or disputing the value of your damages.

When fault for an accident is unclear or disputed, you’ll need to present evidence to persuade the jury of the other driver’s fault. If the other driver was found to be intoxicated, or even have a history of substance abuse, it’s likely to weigh in your favor when the jury deliberates. An experienced car accident lawyer may be able to put this factor to good use in their arguments, along with other evidence, to obtain the maximum compensation for you.

You May Face Delays in Your Case

Alcohol and drug use may also impact the timeframe of a car accident lawsuit. As impaired driving is a criminal offense, the at-fault driver is likely to face criminal charges in addition to your civil lawsuit. Unfortunately, the criminal case will usually need to be resolved before you can take your civil case to court. This might delay your case by several months: even as much as six months if the criminal case requires a jury trial.

Delays in a car accident case can be difficult for injured victims, especially when facing mounting medical bills. While you’re waiting for the final settlement or court-awarded payout to arrive, a local personal injury attorney may be able to help you find suitable medical care. Your attorney may know healthcare providers who are amenable to deferred payment arrangements. They may also be able to negotiate with your health insurer to arrange a better payout involving a lien on your settlement.

An Impaired Driver Might Lack Funds or Insurance

Another way your lawsuit may be impacted by the element of alcohol or drugs is that the impaired driver may have fewer funds for your lawsuit to go after. If they’ve only just paid for a criminal defense lawyer to defend them in court, the legal fees may have significantly depleted their savings and assets.

A driver with a drinking or drug problem may also lack insurance coverage because of previous DUI convictions and a suspended license. In this case, your own insurance policy’s underinsured coverage may cover your losses to some degree. But this might not be enough for your damages in full. When the other driver lacks both insurance and funds, it’s best to speak to a personal injury attorney to figure out your options.

Your Car Accident Lawyer May Include Punitive Damages

When the at-fault driver acted with reckless negligence or willful wrongdoing, as impaired driving is often deemed to be, the injured victim may sometimes seek punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages serve the purpose of punishing the at-fault driver and warning other drivers against such unacceptable behavior. Your attorney can determine if punitive damages may be viable in your case.

How Your Own Alcohol or Drug Use Impacts a Lawsuit

If you consumed alcohol or drugs shortly before becoming involved in a car accident, the other driver’s legal team is likely to use this against you, even if the other driver was at-fault for the accident. They may dispute liability, claiming you were partially or wholly responsible for the crash because your driving was impaired. The level of impact this will have on your case depends on how impaired you were and how clearly at fault the other driver was.

It’s important to be absolutely honest with your attorney. Always disclose any alcohol, drugs, or even medication you took prior to your accident, as the opposing insurer is likely to use the toxicology report from the police to uncover this information and use it against you. Also, tell your lawyer about any history of alcohol or drug abuse, as this may also come to light during your lawsuit. With full information, your attorney can build the strongest case possible.

Hire a Personal Injury Attorney in Gillette or Casper, Wyoming

If you’ve been involved in a car crash in Casper or Jackson, Wyoming, don’t hesitate to speak to a car accident attorney who’s familiar with the local state laws. It’s unwise to pursue a lawsuit without legal representation, especially with the added complexity of alcohol or drug use. As impaired driving is an unfortunately common factor in many car accidents, an experienced attorney will know how to handle it in the best way possible.

If you’d like a seasoned car accident attorney fighting your corner, contact Ochs Law Firm today at (307) 739-3959 for a free consultation. Jason E. Ochs is an experienced trial lawyer who can help you win the full and fair compensation you deserve.

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Our experienced Wyoming personal injury lawyer, Jason E. Ochs will fight to help you recover proper compensation in a class action, pharmaceutical, and medical cases throughout multiple states. Contact us today.

Jason E. Ochs

Jason began his legal career in 2002 with a national multi-district litigation law firm in Newport Beach, California. There he worked on a variety of high-profile, complex-litigation projects including pharmaceutical and medical-device litigation across the country.

The Ochs Law Firm epitomizes professionalism and commitment to all of our clients, regardless of the size of the case or the might of the Defendant. We practice in Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and California in personal injury litigation, medical malpractice, defective products, class action lawsuits, Qui Tam lawsuits, litigation across multiple districts, bad faith insurance, and civil litigation.

We look forward to providing top quality service and representation for you and your family.