Few circumstances feel more senseless and preventable than suffering injuries in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Despite decades of public awareness campaigns and ratcheting up of criminal penalties, impaired driving continues to plague our nation’s roads, including right here in Kentucky.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 10,000 people die each year in alcohol-impaired driving accidents, a number that generally accounts for more than 25% of the country’s annual traffic-related deaths. Here in Kentucky, in 2018, there were 4,736 collisions that involved alcohol, resulting in 124 deaths, 1,5885 injuries, and 3,038 incidents of property damage. While the numbers vary from year to year, the Bluegrass State has sadly not seen any consistent decreases in alcohol related collisions.
Kentucky victims of drunk drivers often have rights to seek compensation from the “at fault” parties in a crash. In this blog post, we discuss the rights those victims may have not just against the drunk driver, but also against someone who served alcohol to that driver. To learn more about your rights after getting hurt in a Kentucky drunk driving accident, contact an experienced Kentucky drunk driving accident injury lawyer today.
Drunk Driving in Kentucky
In Kentucky, a driver is prohibited from operating a motor vehicle when the driver:
- Has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more as measured by a scientifically reliable test of a sample of the individual’s breath or blood. The test must be performed within two hours of the time the individual ceased operating the vehicle.
- Is under the influence of alcohol. If the individual’s BAC is below .05, it will be presumed that they are NOT under the influence of alcohol. If the BAC is above .05 but below .08, the BACwill not be presumptive of influence and must instead be taken into consideration with all other factors.
- Have a BAC of .02 or higher when under the age of 21.
The consequences for driving under the influence will depend on (a) whether the individual has any prior offenses; (b) whether the driver is under the age 21; and (c) whether any aggravating circumstances, such as excessive speeding, are involved. Drunk drivers generally face criminal sanctions that include jail, fines, and suspension of their driving privileges.
Although important, however, criminal prosecutions of drunk drivers do not necessarily “fix” the harm the driver did to accident victims. Those victims still have huge bills to pay, have still lost time at work, and still face a painful, uphill battle to recover from their injuries. To receive compensation for the devastation inflicted on their lives, Kentucky drunk driving accident victims generally need the services of an experienced drunk driving accident injury attorney who can help them pursue “civil” legal options against the parties at fault.
Civil Legal Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents: Drunk Drivers and, Sometimes, Those Who Served Them
Who can Kentucky drunk driving accident victims take legal action against for compensation? It all depends on the facts and circumstances of the accident. Of course, in most drunk driving accident cases, the drunk driver has liability to the accident victim. In Kentucky, however, a bar or restaurant might also have legal liability under what is known as Kentucky’s “dram shop law.”
The most obvious party to look at for responsibility is the drunk driver. Anyone driving under the influence of alcohol who causes a crash will, almost always, have legal liability for damages to the crash victims. In a lawsuit, those victims might recover damages from the driver’s liability insurance policy, or even from the driver’s personal assets. However, the sad reality is that oftentimes these sources do not necessarily cover all of the huge costs and devastating losses suffered by a drunk driving accident victim.
Bar or Restaurant Owner
Under Kentucky’s “dram shop law,” drunk driving accident victims may have the ability to seek money damages from a bar or restaurant that served the drunk driver. Not always, but often enough that it can make a big difference for accident victims struggling to regain their lives after a catastrophic drunk driving crash.
Under the dram shop law, a person licensed to sell or serve alcohol under state law can face legal liability for the harm caused by a drunk driver if it served alcohol to the driver before the crash and:
- The driver was under 21; or
- The driver was over 21, and at the time the driver was served, a “reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances should [have known] that the person served [was] already intoxicated”; or
- The person caused or contributed to the consumption of alcoholic beverages by force or by falsely representing that a beverage contained no alcohol.
So, in a nutshell, a drunk driving accident victim may have the right to sue a bar or restaurant (or someone else with a license to serve alcohol) if that establishment served someone who was obviously drunk – slurring words, say, or falling off of a bar stool – and the customer then drove and caused an accident.
What About a “Social Host”?
You might wonder: if a bar that serves someone who is stumbling drunk faces liability to an accident victim, then why shouldn’t the same rule apply to a private citizen who serves alcohol to a guest in their home?
We have the same question. For now, however, the answer is not totally clear. No Kentucky statute directly addresses that situation. Some Kentucky court cases have held that victims of drunk driving accidents caused by a driver who got drunk in a private setting, like someone’s home, might be able to sue if a “special relationship” existed between the driver and the person who served the driver alcohol (such as, possibly, if the driver was a minor). Speak with an experienced Kentucky drunk driving accident injury lawyer if the drunk driver who harmed you drank alcohol before the crash at a party or other private setting, especially if the driver was underage.
Damages For Drunk Driving Accident Injuries
If someone – a drunk driver, a bar or restaurant, or someone else entirely – owes you damages for injuries you suffered in a drunk driving accident, you may have the right to recover:
- Bodily Injury: Bodily injuries, including neck injuries, back injuries, brain injuries, or any other type of physical harm caused by a drunk driver are necessary to qualify for a dram shop case.
- Medical Costs: Medical costs can include the obvious expenses, like doctors’ bills and prescription costs, and may also include future medical expenses that are likely, such as assistive devices, rehabilitation, or an in-home nurse.
- Loss of Income: Your injuries may have forced you to take time off of work, losing salary or wages. If this is the case, you may have the right to recover for these lost payments. Your injuries may also affect your ability to continue your job in the future or to advance in your career. If so, then you may seek to recover for the loss of your future earning potential.
- Property Damage: Your vehicle may have sustained damage in the drunk driving accident. Additionally, you may have had other property in the vehicle that was damaged. If so, then the legally-liable parties should pay for the cost of repair or replacement of the damaged property.
- Emotional Distress: Any car accident can cause emotional distress, but this is especially true for accidents involving drunk drivers. You may suffer from anxiety any time you get into a car. You may suffer from depression that limits your activities. No matter how the accident has affected you, you may have the right to recover for the emotional toll it has taken on your life.
- Loss of Life Enjoyment: Many injuries can limit your ability to participate in activities that were previously a meaningful part of your life. This could include cooking, gardening, or playing a sport. If you are no longer able to partake in activities you previously enjoyed, you may have the ability to recover money damages for this loss.
- Punitive Damages: Aside from monetary compensation, the injured party may pursue punitive damages when a defendant is grossly negligent. Punitive damages can deter the at-fault party form engaging in the behavior that caused the injury, as well as sending a message to other potential wrongdoers within the industry.
These are merely examples of the types of damages a Kentucky drunk driving accident victim may recover from parties with legal liability, of course. Consult with an experienced Kentucky drunk driving accident lawyer to learn about your specific rights.
What to Do After a Kentucky Drunk Driving Accident
Few things cause more fright and distress than getting hurt in a car accident. Clients come to us after a drunk driving crash feeling as if their lives have gone into a terrifying spiral. They need legal help, certainly; but many also need general guidance to figure out what to do.
We understand and empathize with that frightening confusion. So, let us offer you some basic, general tips for steps to take after a Kentucky drunk driving accident that can protect your health, wellbeing, and legal rights. (These are general suggestions, of course – speak with a skilled lawyer for specific advice about your situation.)
- Get medical care early and often. The most important thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones after suffering the trauma of a drunk driving accident is to seek immediate medical care and to follow your doctor’s guidance. Let an EMT examine you at the accident scene. Then, make sure you follow up with a doctor – your regular physician is best, but any doctor will do – within 24 hours. Do not assume you escaped an accident without injury, just because you feel “ok” in the frightening, shocking moments after a crash. Many serious, even deadly, injuries do not exhibit symptoms right away. You also may not feel injured because your “fight or flight” instinct goes into overdrive after a frightening crash. For the sake of your health and wellbeing, please, go see a doctor right away. Not only will it protect you against an injury getting worse, it will also help establish any connection between the accident and the harm you suffered (which is important information for your lawyer).
Once you have taken care of your medical needs – which, again, is the most important consideration after a Kentucky drunk driving accident – also keep these additional tips in mind:
- Speak with Caution. What you say to others about the accident matters. As human beings, we have a tendency to be self-critical, to blame ourselves for tragedies others inflict on us. Please, resist that urge. Try to avoid saying anything about the crash that injured you that anyone could even possibly, maybe, misconstrue as you taking the blame for your own injuries. Even natural statements like “I should have been more careful” or “I should have seen him coming” can harm your rights.
- Keep Track of Documents. You will receive a lot of paperwork associated with the accident, your injuries, and property damage. Keep all of it. If you can keep it organized, too, that is wonderful, but even if you simply throw it all in a box, that will help your lawyer down the road. Do not throw anything even remotely related to your accident – not even a receipt for a $5 box of medical tape – away.
- Sign Nothing Without Consulting a Lawyer. Do not put your signature on any document relating to your accident or your injuries without first speaking with an experienced car accident attorney. Signing your name is a legal act – it has consequences, some of them hugely significant. Protect yourself and insist on speaking with a lawyer before you sign documents relating to any Kentucky drunk driving accident.
Do not stress if you cannot handle all of the tips above perfectly. You just lived through, and continue to life with the aftershocks of, a traumatic experience. To protect yourself, call on a compassionate, understanding attorney today to help guide you through this difficult period of your life.
Seek Experienced, Compassionate Legal Help
No one can predict when a drunk driver might turn their lives inside out. Victims of a senseless, tragic drunk driving crash can take some comfort, however, in knowing that experienced, caring legal professionals are available to help guide them through this difficult time.
If a Kentucky drunk driver has injured you or a loved one, contact a compassionate, dedicated drunk driving accident injury attorney today for a free case evaluation.