Are you or a loved one a victim of a drunk driving accident? A significant percentage of traffic accidents in Oklahoma every year involve drunk drivers — many of them are fatal. DUI crashes can bring about injuries that result in lifetime handicaps, and in many cases, the drunk drivers walk away unscathed.
Along with being negligent, drunk driving is reckless, and the criminal charges these drivers typically face do not address the emotional and financial losses they inflicted on others. However, the civil justice system provides an avenue by which you can pursue recovery of damages, regardless of the outcome of criminal cases.
Factors that determine compensation level
If you file a personal injury lawsuit in a civil court, it will consider different factors to determine the amount of any monetary award it might enter against the drunk driver. The following are elements the court will likely look at in your case:
- Negligence per se: If there is a conviction in the criminal court, you will not have the burden to prove negligence. The civil court will regard the criminal conviction as proof of negligence. However, the defendant might claim comparative negligence as a defense. This means that the court will look at your role in the accident to determine whether a percentage of the fault was yours, in which case it will subtract that percentage from any monetary award.
- Dram shop laws: Oklahoma has dram shop laws that prohibit establishments from providing alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 and to anyone who appears intoxicated. If you can establish whether the driver left a restaurant, bar, strip club or any other commercial enterprise that serves alcohol before the crash, you might have grounds also to sue that establishment.
- Your ability to work: If the nature of your injuries is such that it puts limitations on your ability to return to work and earn a gainful income — mental or physical damage — you may receive more compensation to cover the future loss of income.
- Chronic injuries: DUI crashes can cause injuries that might require long-term care. An example is a person who suffered a debilitating brain injury as an infant in a DUI accident. He or she will need medical care for life, and the drunk driver might be held liable for the costs. This does not only apply to disabilities but also chronic pain.
- Wrongful death: If you lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, the compensation for you and your family could be considerably higher — especially if the deceased person was also the breadwinner of the family.
Along with substantial financial problems, a drunk driving accident can also cause severe emotional and psychological hardship. Although it is difficult to put a value on these damages, help is available. Once quantified, they can form part of your documented claims that the Oklahoma court will adjudicate before entering a monetary award.