Would you play “Russian Roulette” with four bullets loaded in the revolver? That may sound like a foolish thing to do, but the troublesome truth is that according to at least one source, you have a two-in-three chance in your lifetime of being involved in a drunk driving accident. This means that even if you are rock-solid sober, there is a good chance that at some point – as a driver, a vehicle passenger or a pedestrian – you will still have such an unpleasant and potentially lethal encounter no matter how careful you are.
There is a saying, “A single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” Statistics are everywhere when it comes to the misery and havoc that drunk drivers cause, so much so that the numbers can be numbing. But if you are unfortunate to become one of our annual drunk driving statistics in Washington, there is nothing impersonal about how it will affect you and those you care about.
In this article, we’ll look at three aspects of how you can become a drunk driving victim: how alcohol’s effect on judgment keep; drunk drivers driving, how alcohol affects their driving, and how being struck by a drunk driver can negatively, radically and even permanently change your life or that of someone close to you. Then we will introduce you to things you need to consider when deciding how to take appropriate legal action against the person or people who caused your injuries.
Modern-day driving: you are safer, but still not safe
You are not without allies when it comes to protecting yourself against the physical, mental and financial effects of being victimized by a drunk driver. Cars are safer than ever, with more safety features constantly being added to them. Both governmental agencies and private organizations have waged a decades-long campaign to educate people about the dangers of drinking and driving, not just to.
Yet these accidents persist. And a big part of why this is can be boiled down to one word: “judgment.”
Judgment is the healthy fear that keeps you from doing things that put yourself and others at risk. Judgment is a cornerstone of personal responsibility. Judgment is the social lubricant that helps us all to get along with people, even the ones we don’t necessarily like or get along with. Negligence is the lapse of good judgment; recklessness is its failure.
And if there is one substance known to man that breaks down judgment like heat melts butter, it’s alcohol.
“The happy drunk.” “The belligerent drunk.” The “It’s-the-liquor-talking” drunk. So many of the ways that we describe people under the influence of alcohol relate to the various ways it corrodes and eventually obliterates judgment. What you may not know, however, is how quickly liquor affects the ability of people to exercise sound judgment.
We all know that Washington’s legal limit for blood alcohol content (“BAC”) is .08. But research suggests that long before a person reaches that level, his or her judgment has already been compromised. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, alcohol starts eating away at judgment at a BAC of only .02, with the negative effects increasing parallel to the BAC level.
The worst thing someone who has been drinking can do is to decide he’s fit to drive. But it’s also highly possible if not probable that he or she doesn’t have the ability to recognize that fact. This may be why, despite all the efforts to educate drivers about drunk driving, the problem never goes away.
What are some of the behaviors of drunk drivers?
Once a driver makes the mistake of thinking he can drive under the influence, what makes him so dangerous are the other, physical effects of alcohol on driving performance. These include:
- Problems with coordination, including lessened ability to handle multiple driving tasks at the same time.
- Difficulty accurately judging the speed, distance and direction of other moving vehicles and pedestrians.
- Problems steering the vehicle, including staying within one’s lane.
- Speed control difficulty, particularly the tendency to drive too fast or inability to maintain consistent speed.
- Perception degradation and reduced reaction time, such as not timely responding to things like traffic signals or warning signs and not braking in time.
What makes drunk drivers especially dangerous is how all of these effects combine to make them so unpredictable: they can come speeding at you unexpectedly from behind, or suddenly veer across the centerline and collide with you head on, or run a stop sign and cave in the side of your car, or hit you when you are in the crosswalk with the traffic light in your favor. In the worst cases, they can drive on the wrong side of the road or even up on the sidewalk, or smash into the building you think you are safe in.
What types of injuries can you receive from a drunk driver?
The kinds of injuries you can suffer from being in an accident with a drunk driver include three general categories:
- Traumatic injuries. The kinetic force of a car or truck slamming into you can lead to many kinds of wounds: blunt-force trauma, internal injuries and bleeding, lacerations and abrasions, crushing injuries resulting in broken bones and mangled flesh, and punctures and penetrating wounds. Head impacts often result in traumatic brain injuries; spinal injuries are also not uncommon.
- Burns. Serious burn injuries can happen when your vehicle catches fire after an accident. These can lead to significant soft tissue damage, severe scarring, and long-term or permanent loss of mobility or chronic pain.
- Nonphysical injuries. The mental trauma of being injured in a drunk driving accident can have lasting implications not only for you, but for your loved ones. The death of a family member from such an occurrence often creates a ripple-effect that lasts long afterwards. Personal injury law recognizes these quality-of-life injuries in the form of loss of companionship, loss of parental guidance, and general pain and suffering.
Treating these injuries can lead to a fourth kind of harm: economic loss. What happens if your injuries prevent you from returning to work? What if they leave you with a permanent partial or total disability? Even if you have health insurance, you can still be bled white financially by the costs of medical care.
In short, in an instant, a drunk driver can change the course of the rest of your life. You could require hospitalization and specialized medical care (such as surgeons, burn specialists, physical and occupational therapists, mental health and grieving counselors) that could consume weeks, months or even years of your life.
How can you recover against a drunk driver for your injuries?
A legal claim against a drunk driver for the physical, mental and economic harm he or she has caused you is based on Washington personal injury law: your recovery is based on proving that you have suffered injuries (damages) that can be expressed in dollar amounts. Sometimes this is relatively straightforward, like demonstrating lost wages or medical treatment costs. Pain and suffering injuries can be more subjective to quantify, but can still be significant in themselves.
To give you an idea, let’s take just one scenario: your spouse is involved in a collision with a drunk driver. She suffers head and back injuries. The head wounds cause memory loss, blurring of vision, sleep disorders and even personality changes. The spinal injury will confine her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Multiple surgeries are needed to treat it. She can no longer return to work. You can see how your damages quickly build up and keep growing over time: you were counting on her contribution to the family income to keep your home, now that is in risk of foreclosure. Your marriage and her relationships with your children are no longer the same. Your medical bills have you contemplating bankruptcy.
There is a reason why insurance settlement claims and jury awards for drunk-driving-related personal injury lawsuits can and do run into hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. These sums are not meant to make you rich, but to compensate you for what you will lose over the years that follow.
Proving the full extent of your damages is something you must take very seriously. If the drunk driver has an insurer, negotiating a settlement can become difficult as the insurer seeks to minimize any payout on your claim. Third parties may share part of the blame as well, such as a bar or restaurant that served the drunk driver too much alcohol, but you will need to identify them and identify the facts necessary to link them to your legal claim.
Calculating your economic losses requires thorough investigation, and getting a jury to fully grasp and appreciate your pain and suffering and will require you to present a persuasive case that will put them on your side and maximize your recovery. It took bad judgment on the part of the drunk driver to turn your life upside down. You need to exercise good judgment in pursuing a legal remedy, because when potentially millions of dollars are at stake you cannot afford anything less than the most zealous representation of your interests.
That is why you should not only seek legal help when contemplating your available actions after a drunk driving accident, but in particular a law firm that includes drunk driving injury claims in its areas of focus to make sure that the person or people responsible for your injuries are held to the maximum degree of accountability that the law allows.