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Drunk Driving Car Accidents: What are Your Rights?

Being injured, or losing a loved one, in a car accident can be a devastating and traumatic event. But when you find out the other driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then your shock can turn to anger. That anger is completely understandable as impaired drivers are irresponsible and a danger not only to themselves but to other road users and pedestrians.

DUI incidents are the number one cause of deaths on roads in the United States. There are 300,000 incidents per day, around 11,000 deaths per year, and almost 300,000 injuries per year.

But when an accident has been caused by someone driving under the influence, what are your rights and what sort of legal action are you able to pursue.

The Statistics & Laws

  • 3.2 DUI-related deaths per 100,000 people
  • 374 DUI arrests per 100,000 drivers
  • 54 injuries due to DUI incidents per 100,000 people

The law in Michigan states that a DUI driver is one who:

Has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or greater if over the age of 21, or 0.02 if under the age of 21. There are also higher levels of penalties for high BAC readings of 0.17 or higher. But a police officer can decide to arrest a driver with a lower BAC reading if they are showing signs of impairment.

If drivers test with any amount of a Schedule 1 substance or cocaine, then they will face the same penalties as drunk drivers, even if they do not appear impaired.

If arrested for a DUI, you may face the following penalties.

If your blood alcohol content is below 0.17 and it is your first offense:

  • Max fine of $500
  • Up to 93 days in jail
  • Max of 360 hours of community service
  • Max of 180 days suspended license
  • 6 penalty points on license

If it was your first offence but BAC was 0.17 or higher:

  • Max fine of $700
  • Up to 180 days jail time
  • Max of 360 hours of community service
  • Max 1 year suspended license
  • 6 points on license
  • Court mandated attendance of alcohol treatment program
  • Limits to driving privileges after 45 days license suspension. Use of ignition interlock device.

Michigan also prohibits the carrying of open containers of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

Your Rights

Because of Michigan’s no fault laws, you will initially collect any payments for medical expenses or lost salary from your own no fault policy. Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits are not allocated on the basis of fault, so both you and the drunk driver will be entitled to the following benefits:

  • All medical care including rehabilitation
  • Up to 3 years’ salary coverage with monthly caps in place
  • Coverage of costs for services the injured party is unable to do after an accident, such as domestic services
  • In cases of fatality, survivor’s loss benefits

You may be able to pursue a claim against the drunk driver if you can demonstrate that the other party was drinking and driving and that they were at fault for the accident and that any injuries you have are as a result of that accident.

If the drunk driver had no insurance – unbelievably, around 20% of drivers in Michigan carry no insurance – then you may be covered if you took out uninsured or underinsured coverage with your own insurance company. If you have this insurance, then your insurance company takes the place of the drunk driver and pays out all coverage.

Where alcohol related crashes also involve the other driver absconding from the scene, timely notification of the incident to your insurance company is crucial. Usually a hit and run incident must be reported to your insurers within 24 hours.

You may also be able to pursue a claim against the establishment that served alcohol to the drunk driver. Michigan’s Dram Shop Act allows for such claims to be pursued if the establishment served or sold alcohol to someone who was clearly intoxicated.

This also applies if the establishment served or sold alcohol to someone under the age of 21. These claims can be complicated and need thorough investigation. Cochran, Kroll & Associate, P.C. have many years’ experience in working on these types of cases.

Age groups can also play a part in the ability to pursue a claim. Where the drunk driver was under 21, a claim may be filed against someone who furnishes alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. This may include not only establishments that sell alcohol but also an individual who either obtains alcohol for the minor or who allows them to drink in a private home.

Statute of Limitations

Until recently, this was something that confused many people. PIP claims came under two rules of one year. The first of these required that notice of a PIP claim had to be submitted to your insurance company within one year of the accident. The second – usually called the one-year back rule – states that you cannot recover any benefits beyond one year prior to filing the lawsuit.

But many lawyers believed that the language used in the law provided an exception to the one-year notice rule. The relevant legislation said:

“An action for [PIP benefits] may not be commenced later than 1 year after the date of the accident causing the injury unless written notice of injury as provided herein has been given to the insurer within 1 year after the accident or unless the insurer has previously made a payment of personal protection insurance benefits for the injury.”

This belief was supported by a unanimous Michigan Supreme Court decision in 2016 which stated:

“We hold that the first sentence of MCL 500.3145(1) allows for an action for no-fault benefits to be filed more than one year after the date of the accident causing the injury if the insurer has either received notice of the injury within one year of the accident or has made a payment of no-fault benefits for the injury at any time before the action is commenced.”

The Takeaway

Drunk driving accidents are a continuing scourge on our nation’s road. Despite ongoing programs from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there is an average of one death every 50 minutes in motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 20.5 million Americans over the age of 16 drove under the influence of some substance last year. While different states have different laws relating to your BAC, the reality is that any amount of alcohol will affect your reaction time when driving.

If you have been injured in a drunk driving incident, or have lost a loved one to wrongful death caused by drunk driving, then the experts at Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. can help identify any liable parties and assist you in filing and pursuing a claim against those parties.

We offer a free initial consultation to evaluate your case and advise you on the next steps to take. If you would like to schedule an appointment, you can call us at 1-866-642-4529. Our law firm never charges a fee unless we win your case.

Steve is a former criminal justice worker. With degrees in psychology and social work, he spent most of his life helping those with addiction issues before switching to criminal justice. He was responsible for writing court reports and advising judges on sentencing. He also supervised offenders, including sex offenders, in the community and carried out risk assessments and probation appraisals. He now lives in SE Asia and is working on his 5th novel.

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