As an attorney who handles drunk driving car accident claims in Kansas City, it is always concerning when we hear from clients who were involved in a car accident where alcohol or drugs were either suspected or known to have caused the accident. All too often, car accidents caused by drunk or impaired drivers result in serious injuries, and the stories about these accidents can be terrifying and heartbreaking.
The at-fault driver may be tested and found over the legal limit at the scene, or you may suspect that the driver was drunk, on drugs, or both. You may observe strange behavior or statements, smell alcohol, see drugs or paraphernalia, or see the police test and arrest the driver for driving over the legal limit of .08% BAC (blood alcohol content). No matter what the circumstances, this article explains what your legal rights and remedies are after a drunk driving car accident in Kansas City.
Why do drunk driving car accidents often result in fatal or more severe injuries than other types of accidents?
When alcohol or drugs are involved in an automobile collision, the consequences can be much worse than other types of accidents. The reason is alcohol and drugs impair the bodily functions and judgment required for good safe driving. For instance, when one is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, your judgment, coordination, vision, hearing and reaction time are severely impaired. As a result, drunk drivers may drive the wrong way on one-way roads or into oncoming traffic. For this reason, drunk driving car accidents often result in very dangerous and deadly impacts, including high-speed rear-end crashes and head-on collisions.
How Common Are Drunk Driving Accidents?
Most people have no idea how common drunk driving accidents are. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), 2 out of 3 people will be involved in a drunk driving accident during their lifetime. Considering how dangerous drunk driving accidents can be, that statistic alone is shocking and frightening. Unfortunately, the other statistics cited by MADD are just as bad:
- Every day in America, another 29 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes. That’s one person every 50 minutes.
- 57% of fatally injured drivers had alcohol and/or other drugs in their system and 17% had both.
- In 2014, 10.1 million people reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year, and over 1.1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
- Drunk driving costs the United States $132 billion a year.
Perhaps the worst part of drunk driving accidents is that they are entirely preventable. The purpose of our legal system is both to deter this behavior and provide justice through both the criminal and civil justice system for those whose lives have been impacted by a drunk driver.
What is the difference between criminal and civil liability for drunk driving in Missouri and Kansas?
There are criminal consequences for driving under the influence of alcohol in both Missouri and Kansas. In Missouri, a driver can be cited for a D.U.I. if he or she is found guilty of operating a motor vehicle while in an intoxicated or drugged condition. In Missouri, the blood alcohol content limit is .08% or 0.2% if you are under the age of 21. Kansas has similar limits.
It is important to note, however, that criminal penalties are different than civil liability. In a criminal case, a lawyer who works for the state, called a prosecutor, will pursue punishment of the drunk driver. Depending on whether the driver is a repeat offender or the circumstances of the citation or arrest, a driver can lose his or her license or spend time in jail. While the driver may have to pay criminal penalties or fines, the prosecutor's primary goal is not to recover money on behalf of the victim.
As a result, to get compensation for your injuries from a drunk driving accident, victims will need a personal injury lawyer to file a case in civil court. This would be totally separate from the case being prosecuted in criminal court. While victims of a drunk driving accident obviously would like to see the drunk driver punished and potentially have his license suspended, our job as personal injury lawyers is to pursue civil damages and compensation for your injuries.
What compensation is available to victims of drunk driving accidents?
As with all car accident claims, the at-fault party can be responsible for various types of civil damages, which may include past and future medical bills, lost wages, lost earnings capacity, and past and future pain and suffering. In addition to these damages, drunk drivers may be subject to what is sometimes called "punitive damages." These damages are to punish the drunk driver for reckless conduct. These damages are not available in every auto accident. A threat of punitive damages can be a powerful incentive for the drunk driving defendant and his or her insurance company to settle a case with the accident victim.
How to calculate what your Kansas City drunk driving accident claim is worth?
Despite what you may read elsewhere online, there is no formula for calculating precisely how much a Kansas City car accident claim is worth and that includes one involving a drunk driver. There are many factors that determine how much a car accident claim is worth in Kansas or Missouri, and these same factors also apply to claims from car crashes with a drunk driver. The significance of each of these factors depends on the circumstances of the accident, and not all of these factors will apply in every drunk driving car accident case. These factors are:
- the severity of your injuries,
- whether you sought prompt and necessary treatment for your injuries,
- your diagnosis and recommended course of treatment,
- whether your followed your recommended course of treatment,
- whether your injuries are permanent,
- any preexisting conditions you had,
- the amount of vehicle damage,
- the circumstances of the accident,
- who was to blame, and whether liability is clear,
- weather conditions,
- the amount of insurance available,
- whether any witnesses were present and what they saw or heard,
- whether there was evidence that the driver was drunk or on drugs,
- whether the driver was arrested or prosecuted for a crime,
- whether you hire an experienced personal injury attorney,
- and many other factors.
Is the drunk driver automatically responsible for my damages in every car accident in Kansas City?
Unfortunately, there is no law that makes a drunk driver automatically liable for any damages they cause in an accident. For example, if another driver caused the accident, then the drunk driver may be able to recover damages for any injuries he sustained.
Both Missouri and Kansas law requires juries to determine the percentages of fault for anyone involved in an auto accident. These same rules apply even if the other driver is drunk. However, the fact that a driver is over the legal limit for blood alcohol content while driving will be a relevant factor in determining the fault among the parties.
Do victims of a drunk driving accident need to hire an attorney?
A victim of a drunk driving accident, like a victim of any car accident, is not required to hire an attorney. However, an insurance company may not make a fair offer to an accident victim without an attorney being involved. For example, an insurance company may offer an amount that is far below the victim's medical bills and lost wages, or may misrepresent the amount of insurance available.
The insurance company may suggest that the insured didn't cause the accident or that their injuries aren't serious. We have written prior articles that describe all the tactics insurance companies may take to minimize the amount they pay for claims. Given the likelihood of serious injuries from a drunk driving accident, victims in drunk driving accidents would almost always benefit from having an attorney review their case.
Who might have to pay you money after a drunk driving accident?
In addition to the insurance company for the at-fault party, you may be entitled to recover money from other sources as well. For instance, you may be able to recover money from your own insurance company, if you had uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. You may be able to recover from the drunk driver's own income and assets. You may also be able to recover money from insurance policies held by sober drivers in the accident depending on the circumstances. This could mean a lot of extra money, especially if the accident was fatal or caused severe injuries.
Again for these reasons, you should seek a free consultation from a personal injury attorney. Because of the complexity and issues involved in determining whether any settlement offer is fair in a drunk driving accident, we recommend that you consult with a drunk driving accident attorney from Kansas City before accepting any offer from an insurance company.
Can bars or restaurants be liable for a drunk driving car accident in Kansas City, Missouri?
In some cases, the injured party may be able to file suit against a bartender or restaurant owner if the drunk driver was visibly drunk when leaving the restaurant's premises. In Missouri, any bar or restaurant that sells alcohol to patrons for consumption on-site may be liable for causing a drunk driving accident.
To win such case, known as a Dram Shop Case, you must prove that the restaurant or bar continued serving alcohol to the drunk driver even after he or she became noticeably intoxicated. Missouri, however, does not provide or allow for the prosecution of social hosts who serve alcohol at a party, unless the alcohol was served to a minor.
How long do I have to file a claim for damages from a drunk driving car accident in Missouri or Kansas?
To recover damages in a drunk driving personal injury case, the accident victim must file suit before a deadline, known as the statute of limitations. In general, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim relating to a drunk driving accident is five years from the time of injury in Missouri and two years from the time of injury in Kansas. Of course, this is a general statement of the statute of limitations in these states and not legal advice. As stated above, you should have an attorney review the particular facts of your case make sure you file your claim well before any applicable statute of limitations expires.
Still have questions about a drunk driving car accident claim in Kansas City? For more information, please download a free copy of my book, Crash Course, which includes the 9 mistakes that can wreck your injury claim. You can also contact our firm in Kansas City by calling (816) 203-0143 or by filling out a form below. Contacting us is FREE and confidential, and there is no obligation to hire us to represent you. We would be happy to hear any concerns and try to assist you.