Drunk Driving Accidents

Drunk driving is an unfortunate reality that destroys lives each and every day. And all too often, the victims of these senseless incidents tend to be the innocent party.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2018 there were 10,511 deaths in the United States as a result of alcohol-impaired driving accidents. Additionally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2017 alcohol was a factor in nearly one out of every four traffic fatalities in West Virginia. Furthermore, alcohol-impaired driving accidents account for thousands of injuries to fellow motorists, many of which will have to live with permanent disabilities. These statistics are truly disheartening. If you or your loved one experience the turmoil of being injured or harmed by an impaired driver, call Rich & Gutta, PLLC, as soon as possible.

What Makes a Drunk Driving Accident Unique?

Drunk driving accidents are unique because the driver will likely face criminal charges and prosecution in relation to the accident. As a victim, you have the right to immediately file a civil lawsuit against the drunk driver without waiting for the criminal case to conclude. Furthermore, a drunk driver does not have to be convicted of DUI or DWI for a civil claim to be successful.

Who is Liable? What are the Elements of a Negligence Claim?

When you contact attorneys Gary Rich and Matthew Gutta, we can evaluate the nature of your incident to determine the viability of a potential claim. The success of a claim is dependent upon the extent to which the injuries, harm, or death was caused by the negligence of others. There are four elements of a negligence claim. Remember, the “Plaintiff” in a lawsuit is the injured party who is filing an action, or claim, against the Defendant. The “Defendant”, sometimes referred to as the “Respondent”, is the party accused of causing the harm. The four elements of a negligence claim are:

Duty: The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant owed a certain duty of care in the specific situation. The extent of the duty of care varies based upon the circumstances of each situation.

For example, drivers are required to exercise a “duty of reasonable care” by operating motor vehicles safely and in a manner that will not cause harm to others.

Breach: The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant breached the duty of care that was required in that specific situation.

For example, if it is proven that a driver was driving recklessly because he was intoxicated, resulting in an accident, the duty of care has been breached.

Causation: The third element of a negligence claim is causation. The Plaintiff must prove that the Defendant’s breach of duty actually and proximately caused the Plaintiff’s damages, harm, injuries or loss. Evaluating actual and proximate causation can be a complicated task which requires the skills and knowledge of experienced attorneys.

Actual cause is sometimes referred to as cause-in-fact. Actual cause exists when the Defendant’s actions, or inactions, directly cause the Plaintiff’s harm. In determining actual cause, attorneys must implement the “but for” test: “But for (without) the Defendant’s actions, would the Plaintiff have been injured?” In other words, if the Defendant did not do what he did, would the Plaintiff have suffered the harm that was suffered? If the Plaintiff wouldn’t have suffered the harm without the Defendant’s actions, then actual cause has been established.

For example, a driver is swerving into the opposite lane because he intoxicated, and because of his reckless driving, he crosses the center line and collides with your vehicle, head-on. The intoxicated driver’s actions were the actual cause of your harm. Using the “but for” test, ask the following question: “But for (without) the driver driving recklessly as a result of his impairment, would he have swerved and collided with your vehicle?” If the answer is that the collision wouldn’t have happened if driver hadn’t been driving while intoxicated, then we have established actual cause.

When determining proximate cause, courts will consider whether the Plaintiff’s injuries were foreseeable to the Defendant. If the Defendant’s actions set forth a chain of unforeseeable events that resulted in harm to the Plaintiff, then it may be established that the Defendant did not proximately cause the Plaintiff’s injuries.

Damages: The fourth element of a negligence claim is damages. The Plaintiff must have suffered damages, harm, injuries or loss as a result of the Defendant’s actions. If the Defendant breached a duty of care without causing any damages, harm, injuries, or loss to the Plaintiff, then the Plaintiff has no claim.

What Types of Compensation are Available?

If you are harmed, or if a loved one is killed or harmed in a drunk driving accident, and if you have a viable claim, attorneys Gary Rich and Matthew Gutta may seek multiple categories of damages to provide the compensation that you may be entitled to:

Compensatory Damages: Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the victim for the cost of the injury or harm. Furthermore, there are two different types of compensatory damages, actual and general.

Actual compensatory damages can include property damage, lost income, lost employment wages, and medical expenses such as hospital bills, rehabilitation treatment, physical therapy, medical equipment, nursing home care, in-home care and prescription drug costs.

General compensatory damages can include pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium and future losses as a result of lower earning capacity and future medical care.

Punitive Damages: Although punitive damages will only be awarded in specific instances, punitive damages serve as a punishment to the Defendant. Furthermore, awarding such damages sends a message to others in society and in that respect, punitive damages serve as a deterrent for such negligent behavior. Although there is a high burden on the Plaintiff to prove punitive damages, such awards can be substantial in comparison to compensatory damages.

Steps to Take if You or a Loved One is Involved in a Drunk Driving Accident:

  1. Contact 911 immediately and seek roadside assistance and medical treatment for all involved.
  2. Insofar as you are safely able to do so, identify the other parties involved and exchange information. Take as many photographs of the scene as possible. Take photographs from various angles. Photograph the roadway, surrounding area, debris, license plates and vehicle damage.
  3. Do not speak with an insurance company or provide any written statement to an insurance company without first talking to Rich & Gutta, PLLC.
  4. Call Rich & Gutta, PLLC, as soon as possible.
Why You Should Seek Medical Care Immediately?

Regardless of whether you sustain severe injuries or minor injuries, it is imperative that you seek medical treatment immediately after your accident. A doctor will properly evaluate your condition and check for internal injuries that might not be immediately apparent to you. Your doctor will then provide a medical report that will be essential in building your case.

Why You Should Call Rich & Gutta, PLLC Immediately?

Preservation of evidence is paramount. This means that time is of the essence and you need an experienced legal team to ensure that, among other things, witnesses are identified, medical and police records are obtained, and other evidence is properly gathered. If you or a loved one were involved in a drunk driving accident, call Rich & Gutta, PLLC at (304) 924-7001.

Tips for Safe Driving:

  • Always be cognizant of other drivers. Remember that many drunk driving accidents occur late at night or in the early morning hours. The late night and early morning hours on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays tend to be the riskiest times to travel, as intoxicated drivers are leaving bars and gatherings at these times.
  • Drive at safe speeds and at safe distances from other drivers. The time and distance in which you have to react to a potential collision is precious.
  • Always wear your seatbelt.