The dangers of drinking and driving are well-known. Yet sadly, drunk driving accident rates remain far too high in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 30 people are killed in drunk driving accidents per day nationwide. And in Michigan, nearly 1/4 of all fatal accidents involve a driver who is over the legal blood-alcohol limit. While these numbers are actually down for past years, drunk driving remains one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents, and it is estimated that nearly one in three people will be involved in a drunk driving accident during their lifetime. Because of this reality, knowing your rights if you are injured by a drunk driver is important.
You have a claim against the driver
The most obvious claim that a person injured in a drunk driving accident is one against the drunk driver themselves. Michigan law requires that all motor vehicles carry a minimum amount of liability coverage. If the at-fault driver carried the required insurance, the person they injured could bring a claim against them and their automobile insurance company. Like any car accident claim, the injured person must demonstrate that the drunk driver was at fault for the accident and that their injuries are the result of that accident.
You may have a claim for uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits
But what happens if the drunk driver doesn’t have insurance? Or if their coverage is minimal and not nearly enough to cover the resulting injuries? Most insurance companies offer uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage. This coverage is optional. It protects individuals who are hurt as the result of a driver who either does not have insurance or their coverage is insufficient to fully compensate for injuries.
If you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, your own insurance company will actually step into the shoes of the at-fault driver and pay damages up to the limit of coverage you have purchased. Since the reality is that nearly one in five drivers in Michigan is driving uninsured, it’s vital to purchase uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage to protect against the danger of being injured by an uninsured drunk driver.
Our attorneys, who handle Michigan motor vehicle accident claims, recommend a minimum of $500,000 of both uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
In cases involving hit-and-run accidents, notify your insurer immediately
Many times a drunk driver will compound an already bad decision by fleeing the scene of an accident in an effort to escape legal responsibility. In these hit-and-run cases where the driver’s identity is unknown, it’s critical that an injured party notify their own insurer as soon as possible. Uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage will generally apply to a hit-and-run accident; however, many insurers have very strict notice requirements for claims where the at-fault driver’s identity is unknown. Sometimes this notice period can be as short as 24 hours. With this in mind, notify your insurer as soon as possible of a potential uninsured motorist claim. This helps preserve your rights to pursue that claim.
Unfortunately, this short notice period usually applies even in instances when the injured person is incapacitated or killed. Therefore, family members must notify their insurance provider as quickly as possible in these instances.
You may also have a claim against the establishment that served alcohol to the driver
In addition to the typical claims that can result from car accident cases, a person injured by a drunk driver may also have a claim against the establishment that sold or served alcohol to the intoxicated driver. Michigan’s Dram Shop Act provides injured persons with a cause of action against sellers of alcohol if the seller sold or served alcohol to a person who has displayed visible signs of intoxication or if the seller directly sold or served alcohol to a person under the age of 21. Keeping in mind that this law only applies to liquor licensees, such as bar, restaurants, and stores, is important. It does not apply to individuals who may have furnished alcohol to the drunk driver.
Claims against licensees have strict notice requirements and timeframes. Licensee notification is mandatory and includes a shortened statute of limitations. Furthermore, identifying where the drunk driver was served prior to the crash oftentimes requires extensive investigation. Those injured as the result of a drunk driving accident should consult with an attorney is key. Lawyers with experience handling drunk driving claims will know all of these specifics and help protect the injured person’s rights.
If the drunk driver was under the age of 21, other individuals may also be liable
Generally, in Michigan, private individuals who provide alcohol to others aren’t liable for harm resulting from the intoxicated person’s conduct. However, this rule does not apply to people who furnish alcohol to minors (Longstreth v Gensel, 423 Mich 675 (1985). Individuals may be held liable for serving alcohol to minors who cause harm as a result of consuming that alcohol. This includes homeowners that allow minors to drink alcohol at their home. Also, those over 21 who buy alcohol for minors may be liable. Accordingly, it’s important to investigate how the minor obtained the alcohol prior to the crash. This helps determine whether others are potentially liable for the crash as well.
Given the prevalence of drunk driving and the complexity of the various claims which an injured person can bring, it is important for individuals injured in drunk driving accidents to consult with an attorney experienced in the handling of these types of claims as soon as possible following a crash so that the matter can be promptly investigated.
More Information Regarding Drunk Driving Accidents