A drunk driving accident will usually end up with criminal charges, though you can recover compensation for your damages in civil court, including punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the behavior of the at-fault driver, and this can increase the value of your case.
General losses that you can seek compensation for include lost wages and future earning potential, pain and suffering, property damage, and medical, surgical, and rehabilitation expenses. You can usually prove general damages with receipts, estimates, and other financial evidence.
Then there are punitive damages to deter the at-fault driver from repeating the behavior that caused the accident. Some states impose limits on punitive damages, awarded only when the behavior of the defendant was especially harmful or reckless, though North Carolina imposes no limit, so the court can decide an appropriate award. In some cases, the defendant’s umbrella insurance policy or homeowner’s insurance will cover what the auto insurance does not.
If there is a third party responsible for the accident, such as a bar, restaurant, or liquor store who knowingly served alcohol to someone who was clearly intoxicated, then you may be able to seek damages from this third party as well. Even if it was a social host at a house part, the insurance company of that individual may end up paying compensation as well. You’ll want an attorney for these sorts of cases to adequately demonstrate the liability of the third party.
Drunk drivers often face higher insurance premiums, so it is not uncommon for drunk driving accidents to occur in which the at-fault driver has no insurance, being unable to afford it. If this happens, then you may find yourself relying on these third party resources and in need of the help of an attorney to receive any compensation at all.
Civil and Criminal Actions Against Drunk Drivers
Civil and criminal actions are separate. If you’ve been in a car accident with a drunk driver, you should contact your insurance company to let them know right away. It can help to have evidence from the criminal case in your civil action, though you must also act within the three year statute of limitations. Your best option is to contact an attorney to help you balance the needs of your case.