There's no denying that drunk driving is an epidemic in the United States. According to CDC statistics, in an average week, 27,000 drivers are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. Studies show that those arrests reflect just one percent (1%) of the overall incidence of DUI / DWI - which means that, every week, there are over 3 million episodes of alcohol-impaired driving in the United States. Unsurprisingly, one in three car crash deaths involves a drunk driver, amount to over 30 deaths on average every single day. About two percent of those who die are children. It’s appalling.
We do everything we can to prevent drunk driving before it happens, such as by supporting more regular checks by the Liquor Control Board of bars, restaurants, sports stadiums, and other venues that serve alcohol to ensure their employees are properly trained in following the law, which prohibits service of alcohol to anyone who is “visibly intoxicated.” As lawyers, though, the nuts and bolts of what we do happens after the crash has already occurred.
One of the most common situations we face is when someone injured in, or the family of someone who has died in, a drunk driving accident comes to us and says that the police cited the driver for both DUI and driving without insurance. If the drunk driver didn't have insurance, they ask, can we still file a lawsuit?
There are five different avenues of potential compensation in a drunk driving lawsuit, whether through a settlement or a jury verdict, when a drunk driver doesn't have any accident liability insurance. As the most basic matter, for each one of these, it’s not enough just to prove the driver was intoxicated; the plaintiff also has to prove that driver was at fault. If, for example, an intoxicated driver is stopped at red light and someone else negligently runs into them, that other person, and not the drunk driver, is responsible for the damages.
(1) Your Own Insurance Company Should Provide Uninsured Motorist Compensation
First, the person injured by the accident, whether driving their own vehicle, riding in another vehicle, or even riding a bike or walking as a pedestrian, likely has access to their own underinsured/uninsured motorist insurance coverage. Under these "UIM" benefits, a person injured in a car accident as the result of someone else's fault, including drunk driving, is entitled to some degree of compensation for their lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering from their own insurance company.
The compensation often isn't a lot - and neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey has a minimum UIM coverage amount (see here) - but, if they have it, it can help the injured person meet their monthly bills and get back on their feet, or help the family that has just lost a loved one to pay for the funeral and other associated costs. Further, if the insurance company gives the policyholder too much trouble and doesn't pay the UIM, then the policyholder might have a claim for insurance bad faith.
(2) The Drunk Driver Can Be Held Responsible, Even If They Declare Bankruptcy
Second, even if the drunk driver has no car insurance, they might have significant financial assets, and so a claim against them might still be worth pursuing. Importantly, although people routinely declare bankruptcy to avoid liability for negligence, the Federal Bankruptcy Code specifically says that debts arising from DUI/DWI accidents cannot be discharged by bankruptcy, and so, if the drunk driver was at fault and has any ability to pay and live up to their responsibility, then the courts will make them do so.
(3) Any Business That Illegally Served The Drunk Driver Alcohol Can Be Legally Responsible
Third, dram shop laws allow people injured in drunk driving accidents - even including the drunk driver themselves - to bring a lawsuit against any bar, restaurant, stadium, or any other place that illegally served alcohol and thereby contributed to the crash. The most common form of illegally serving alcohol is when a bar continues to serve someone who is "physically intoxicated," as shown by their behavior, such as slurred speech and difficulty keeping balance, or as shown by the sheer number of alcoholic drinks they were served, like this appalling case involving an Applebee’s serving a man nearly two-dozen alcoholic drinks.
Also, some places like sports clubs and outdoor events serve alcohol without a liquor license, making them liable for any accidents caused by intoxicated patrons.
Finally, service of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21, including by a private person at home, is illegal, and so anyone who serves alcohol to a minor will be held responsible for any injuries caused by the minor's alcohol use.
(4) Car, SUV and Truck Companies Can Be Liable For Crashworthiness Claims
Fourth, cars aren't just meant to drive on the road, they're meant to keep passengers safe in accidents. These are called "crashworthiness" claims. In many drunk driving cases, although the initial cause was the drunk driver, the car's safety features fail to work properly, such as when seat belt "unspools", when a seat back collapses from the force of the impact, or when an airbag fails to deploy. Many times, the accident only caused a spinal cord injury or a traumatic brain injury because the car failed to protect the passengers as well as it should have.
(5) Unsafe Road Situations Can Make The Commonwealth Or Private Road Design And Construction Companies Liable
Fifth, sometimes a dangerous situation in the road itself contributed to the accident. Many intersections are simply unsafe because they lack adequate lighting, because telephone and utility poles are too close to the road, or because construction sites have inadequate cones and signs in front of them. In Philadelphia, for example, Roosevelt Boulevard, Spring Garden, Girard, and parts of I-95 and I-76 are notoriously dangerous.
Let Us Put Our Over Fifty Years Of Experience To Work For You
We have successfully recovered compensation for clients in all of the above situations - for example, we once won a case involving an improperly placed pole on Roosevelt Boulevard - and so, with each drunk driving accident, we immediately begin investigating every possible avenue, despite the lack of insurance, such as by sending private investigators out to question witnesses at bars and restaurants, and by securing all of the evidence relating to the car itself. We then have our private investigators, who all have former police, federal government, or military backgrounds, to stay in close contact with the authorities, both to share information and to ensure no stone is left unturned.