Do I need a lawyer after a Drunk Driving Accident?
It is never a good decision to attempt handling an accident claim unless the injuries are minimal with a good prospect for rehabilitation and there is only one obvious negligent driver completely at fault. There should be no possibility for a product liability claim as well. But, even seemingly simple auto accidents can still be complicated even when illegal activity is a component of the crash. Drunk driving along with excessive speeding can both be very serious considerations in any accident because the possibility for complete fault and punitive damages is always a potential final result of the claim. However, just because an individual is breaking the law when an accident happens does not automatically mean they are completely at fault for the crash. The accident claim portion of a crash is still a civil tort filing, meaning the court ruling is based on a preponderance of the evidence viewed in a totality of circumstances. Reasonable doubt only applies to the criminal charges associated with the wreck, but the outcome of a criminal proceeding following the crash can make a major difference in the value of an accident claim.
Understanding Comparative Fault
Comparative fault is the legal doctrine that most accidents are not caused solely by one negligent actor, even though that does happen in many situations. The courts still review cases that involve complete fault before making the 100% comparative negligence assessment as a method of keeping adjudication of accidents standardized to a certain degree. This also allows for negligence considerations involving other drivers who may have contributed to the cause. The final result does not always elevate to the level of complete fault when there are multiple negligent actors, including injured victims of accidents primarily caused by a drunk driver. It is important to remember that comparative fault levels are also assigned to injured claimants and that all injury claim damages total will be discounted by the level of personal comparative fault. Just because one of the drivers in an accident is drunk does not make a case automatic, so it is still vital to have an experienced accident attorney protecting your damage recovery rights.
Dealing with the Insurance Company
Insurance company claims adjusters are trained professionals who deal with serious auto accident claims on a daily basis. They are obligated primarily to the company bottom line and protecting their client, especially when they can impact the amount of damages an injured victim can receive in a settlement resulting from a crash with a drunk driver. The adjusters will still focus on comparative negligence of the injured plaintiff if it will help lessen the value of a claim, and they can also impact the final assessment by the court of personal negligence levels. It is not a bad idea to discuss the claim with an insurance adjuster before actually filing, but the best decision is to seek legal counsel first from a reputable and knowledgeable accident attorney. Accident attorneys are professional negotiators as well, and an insurance company agent will always attempt to dissuade a claimant from retaining an attorney. When this is happening, it is a good sign your claim is much more valuable than you realize.
Potential Punitive Damages
Assessment for punitive damages is where a claim can really be much more valuable. Maximum recovery is the goal of all auto accident attorneys because the more they collect for the injured client, the more they earn in commission. When attorneys think they can win a case in an actual trial that could result in punitive action against the negligent respondents they become invaluable beyond their fee. The chances they can prove gross negligence on the part of the defendants means that an injured client could clearly be made “whole” in a final assessment from the jury. State courts have the authority to adjust punitive damages that may be excessive, but the important thing is arriving at the punitive damage award. Drunk drivers who have significant personal assets are also especially vulnerable in punitive damage claims even after the limits of their insurance is exhausted.
Even accidents involving drunk drivers can be difficult when it comes to being properly compensated for the resulting damages. The attitude of the court concerning the seriousness of drunk driving can matter, and having a reputable experienced attorney handling your case who knows how to use the drunk driving conviction as leverage in a claim settlement negotiation can easily result in a maximum insurance payment agreement at a very minimum.