DRUNK DRIVER ACCIDENTS IN FORT WAYNE
Indiana, along with the rest of the country, prohibits drivers over the age of 21 years old from operating a vehicle if they have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more. Drivers who have not reached 21 years of age face even more severe restrictions, as they are not permitted to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their systems. Although these laws were put in place to protect drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, and anyone else on the road, a surprising number of people still get behind the wheel while intoxicated, causing thousands of accidents across the state every year.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 2,210 people lost their lives in accidents involving a drunk driver in Indiana between 2003 and 2012. This is an alarming statistic for residents and visitors to the state, as it does not take into account the number of accidents that don’t result in death, but cause devastating, and often permanently disabling injuries.
Fortunately, those who are injured in accidents caused by drunk drivers can recover damages from the at-fault party to compensate them for related medical bills and lost wages. To learn more about your own eligibility for compensation, please contact one of our experienced Fort Wayne drunk driving accident attorneys today.
INDIANA DRUNK DRIVING LAWS
Indiana’s drunk driving laws make it unlawful for drivers to operate a vehicle:
- With a BAC of .08 percent or more, unless the driver is under the age of 21 years old, in which case, a person can be convicted of DUI for driving with a BAC of .02 percent or more;
- With any amount of a Schedule I or II controlled substance, such as opiates, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, or hallucinogenic drugs in their system; or
- While intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.
Operating a vehicle while intoxicated is normally charged as a misdemeanor. However, those who are convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and who caused a serious accident, in which another person suffered a bodily injury, face felony charges, which are punishable by fines, the creation of a permanent criminal record, driver’s license suspension, and potential jail time. Even though these penalties can be severe, they do little to help victims of the reckless driver’s actions.
For this reason, Indiana allows those who are injured in accidents with drunk drivers to file civil lawsuits against them in court. Unlike the criminal justice system, which is tasked with punishing defendants who violate the law, civil courts have the ability to assign damages to negligent and reckless drivers who must pay the amount to the injured parties. If you’ve been injured then contact a drunk driver accident lawyer in Fort Wayne today.
Filing this type of lawsuit is completely separate from any criminal charges that have been or are currently being filed against a defendant, so although a civil suit could be strengthened by a defendant pleading guilty to or being convicted of drunk driving in criminal court, a civil suit can be filed regardless of the criminal case’s outcome. Furthermore, the burden of proof in civil cases is much lower than that in criminal cases, which requires prosecutors to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In contrast, a person can be found guilty in civil court as long as their guilt is established by a preponderance of the evidence. For this reason, it is not uncommon for a person to be found not guilty in criminal court, but to be held liable for damages in civil court for the same offense.
FILING A LAWSUIT IN CIVIL COURT
Unlike criminal courts, which are tasked with punishing those who violate the law, the goal of civil courts is to compensate accident victims by awarding damages, of which there are two main types: compensatory damages and punitive damages. The former can be broken down further into two categories of compensation: economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages compensate injured parties for easily calculable losses, such as medical expenses related to the accident, which could include compensation for:
- Ambulance services;
- Overnight hospital stays;
- Prescription medications;
- Physical therapy or other rehabilitation costs; and
- Medical devices.
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Aside from these costs, a Fort Wayne drunk driving attorney who is successful in filing a civil suit against a drunk driver can also collect any lost wages incurred as a result of not being able to work. For those who were forced to take months off or who were never able to return to work, this could be a substantial sum. These awards are also intended to cover property damage that a person may have sustained in the accident, such as vehicle damage.
Unfortunately, not all of an accident victim’s losses can be easily calculated. For example, putting a dollar amount on a person’s pain and suffering can be extremely difficult. However, this does not deter judges and juries who are given discretion when it comes to awarding damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress. In coming to a decision, courts often consider the severity of the victim’s injuries, as well as his or her age and general health.
The second type of damages that courts award in civil suits against drunk drivers is known as a punitive award. Unlike compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate injured parties for their accident-related losses, punitive awards, are strictly intended to punish the at-fault party for, especially egregious behavior. Before a victim can receive this type of award, he or she must provide clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice or at least gross negligence. When determining whether this burden has been met, courts look at a series of factors, including:
- The defendant’s BAC at the time of the accident;
- Whether the defendant has a history of drunk driving; and
- The specific circumstances of the case.
Even when a judge decides to award punitive damages, the state limits how much he or she can actually receive. In Indiana, punitive damage cannot exceed three times the total amount of compensatory damages that a person was awarded, or $50,000, whichever amount is greater. Furthermore, at least 75 percent of an award of punitive damages won’t go to the plaintiff, but will be donated to the Violent Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
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AREAS WE PRACTICE
At the Delventhal Law office, our Fort Wayne personal injury attorneys are committed to fighting for the rights and interests of accident victims. If you or a family member was injured because of the carelessness or recklessness of another party, we can help. Our Indiana personal injury lawyers handle a wide array of legal cases, including:
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