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How Is a Drunk Driving Accident Different From a Regular Car Crash?

Post By Corey Heit

As a drunk driving lawyer for the Columbus, Ohio, region who has helped victims of dozens of car crashes, I see three major differences between accidents caused by sober drivers and collisions with injuries caused by drivers under the influence.

First, nearly every crash caused by a drunk driver could have been prevented. People who stay out the driver’s seat after consuming alcohol do not hit and injure other people. Columbus drunk driving attorneys will argue fine points of the law regarding blood alcohol concentration measures and comparative negligence, but legal and insurance issues never arise from drunk driving accidents that never happen. It sounds simple, but it bears repeating: Put down your keys when you pick up an adult beverage.

Second, and getting back to that comparative negligence comment, insurance company representatives for drunk driver will try to shift blame to injured victims.

Ohio personal injury law allows an injured victim to claim compensation and monetary damages from a driver who is 51 percent responsible for causing a crash. This rule is in place to ensure that individuals who rack up medical bills, take unpaid leave from work and experience pain and suffering due to someone else’s recklessness do not assume all of the financial burdens of recovering from the accident.

What actually happens is that insurers use many tactics to inflate even the tiniest question over the injured victim’s contribution to causing a wreck into a conclusion that the victim is mostly to blame. From the insurance company’s perspective, it does not really matter that its policyholder got behind the wheel while putting everyone else’s life and well-being at risk. If the insurance company can cast enough doubt over what actually happened, it will save money.

Last, victims of drunk drivers who can demonstrate that they suffered injuries in wrecks they did not cause may qualify to receive punitive damages. Also called “exemplary damages,” punitive damages represent a noncriminal fine for especially reckless behavior, and they serve as an example to other people of the consequences they could face for inflicting others. This type of award is not available to people who get injured by sober drivers.

Note that while claiming punitive damages requires going through a civil jury trial, doing that can be worth the time and effort in order to fully hold a drunk driver accountable for the harm he or she inflicted. Succeeding with a punitive damage claim can result in an award of up to twice the total of compensatory damages. For instance, receiving $100,000 for medical expenses and lost wages and $200,000 in punitive damages would result in a drunk driving accident victim receiving a total award of $300,000.

Crashes caused by drunk drivers are not necessarily worse than wrecks caused by sober drivers, but they almost never need to happen. When they do, the insurance company for the drunk driver will work hard to avoid making a fair injury settlement. Holding a drunk driver accountable can include claiming and collecting punitive damages, but partnering with an experienced Columbus drunk driving attorney and going through a jury trial will be necessary to do that.

Corey Heit of Heit Law in Westerville offers free consultations to drunk driving victims. Find out if he can help you by calling (614) 898-5300 or reaching out online.

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