Impaired driving is one of the primary causes of injury accidents and fatal accidents across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 people die in the United States every day in accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers. The cost of impaired-driving accidents totals more than $44 billion every year.b
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), in 2014, there were more than 340,000 traffic crashes in Florida. In 2013, traffic accidents were responsible for almost 2,500 deaths. Of those fatal accidents, 18% involved alcohol, and 34% involved suspected alcohol use. Nationwide, 1.9% of adults have reported driving after drinking too much, while that rate is 2.1% in Florida.
Common Causes of Impaired Driver Accidents
Drivers under the influence of a variety of drugs or alcohol may be more likely to be involved in an accident. Certain drugs or alcohol can slow down reaction time, affect judgment and reasoning, impair motor function, upset the driver's sense of balance or coordination, or impair vision and hearing.
Accident reports show that as a result of drugs or alcohol, impaired drivers may drive more recklessly by:
- following at an unsafe distance,
- failing to follow traffic signals, and
- crossing over into oncoming traffic.
As a result impaired drivers may be unable to avoid an otherwise preventable collision. Impaired driver accidents can involve a single vehicle, or lead to multi-vehicle collisions.
Impaired driving involves more than alcohol. A number of legal and illegal substances have been linked to impaired driving. When an accident involves suspected impairment of alcohol or drugs, drivers should contact the police. This is not only required by law, it may also help protect drivers with their insurance claims or when filing a lawsuit for damages.
Alcohol is one of the most common factors involved in motor vehicle accidents. Impaired driver accidents do not require a driver to become blackout drunk. Even a small amount of alcohol has been shown to impair a driver's ability to safely operate their vehicles. Depending on the level of alcohol in the driver's system, alcohol can reduce the driver's ability to see distant objects, especially at night. Alcohol can also blur vision, cause double vision, reduce peripheral perception, and impair motor function.
Drivers Under the Influence of Marijuana - Cannabis
Drivers under the influence of marijuana or cannabis are becoming more common as more states legalize medical marijuana and recreational use of pot. Florida voters approved Amendment 2 to allow medical marijuana for patients diagnosed with HIV, cancer, epilepsy, and a number of other illnesses under a doctor's prescription. Medical pot has been legal for several years in Florida, Amendment 2 broadens the range of patients. With medical dispensaries providing marijuana to patients, more drivers in Florida may be under the influence of marijuana while behind the wheel.
Some drivers do not think marijuana has an impact on their ability to drive. However, according to the CDC, marijuana users are about 25% more likely to be involved in a car accident compared to drivers with no marijuana in their system. Marijuana use is on the rise in the U.S., with an estimated 13% of nighttime and weekend drivers having marijuana in their systems.
Drivers Under the Influence of Prescription Medication
Many drivers are surprised to find they can be arrested for driving under the influence of legally prescribed medications. A valid prescription may save the driver from facing drug charges, but they can still be found to be driving under the influence if their normal faculties are impaired by the medication. Be sure to talk to your doctor and pharmacist before you drive after taking medications.
Other drivers may be using prescription medications without a valid prescription. This includes anxiety medications like Xanax, opioid painkillers like OxyContin, fentanyl, and Vicodin, or muscle relaxants. These drivers may also be using a combination of medications or exceeding normal doses, increasing the likelihood of getting into an accident.
Impaired Driver Accident Injuries
Injured in an impaired driver accident can range from minor to fatal. Common injuries include cuts, bruises, head or neck trauma, broken bones, internal injuries, back injury, burn injuries, and severed limbs. Anyone facing a potential injury after an accident should seek immediate medical attention.
After some minor accidents, a driver or passenger may feel fine immediately after the crash. However, a couple of days later, they may realize they suffered a head, neck, or back injury. Neck and back injuries can be deceptive and should be evaluated by a medical professional.
One of the differences involving impaired driver accidents compared to other accidents is that the other driver involved may not be able to render aid to injury victims. Another problem with impaired driver accidents is that drivers may flee the scene of an accident. This may leave injured victims without medical care for extended periods of time, increasing the chance of a serious injury or possible death.
Criminal Charges in Impaired Driver Accidents
Accidents involving a drunk driver are different than other accidents because the driver may also be facing criminal charges. The injured victims may seek compensation from the impaired driver, but they may have to wait until the criminal case is concluded before they can proceed with a civil case.
A criminal drunk driving case is prosecuted by the state against the suspected drunk driver, who is the defendant. A prosecutor may be seeking a criminal conviction for a DUI, DUI involving an accident, or a DUI involving bodily injury. The driver may negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor to accept a minimum sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. If the driver wants to plead not guilty, the case may proceed to trial, and be determined by a judge or jury. The sentence may include jail time, fines and fees, and other requirements determined by law.
In a civil trial, the injured victim will act as the plaintiff, seeking money damages from the defendant or their insurance company. The civil case can go on for months or years before it gets to a trial. During that time, the parties can agree on a settlement agreement that is accepted by both parties. If they cannot come to an agreement, the case may go to trial. A judge or jury will determine whether the driver is liable for the accident and determine whether to award the victim money damages.
Damages Available in an Impaired Driver Accident
Victims injured in an accident with a drunk driver should be compensated for their damages. Legal damages include both economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages are quantifiable and generally consist of property damage, medical bills, continuing medical treatment, loss of income, and loss of future earnings.
Noneconomic damages may also be available but are generally harder to quantify. This includes pain and suffering, compensation for scarring, disability, or disfigurement, as well as loss of companionship or loss of enjoyment of life.
An insurance company may try and get the victims to quickly accept a settlement offer that does not fully cover the injured victim's damages. Many accident victims accept the offer because they think it may be all they can get. However, before you accept a settlement offer, you should consider talking to an experienced attorney. Your attorney can advise you on your case, and if necessary, fight to make sure you get the full compensation you deserve.
In addition to legal damages, injury victims may be eligible for compensation through a state fund. Impaired driving accidents are considered a crime. As a result, victims who have been injured in a drunk driving accident may make a claim under the Crimes Compensation Act. In Florida, victims of criminal driving accidents may be able to receive compensation from the Victim's Compensation Fund for their damages, including medical bills and vehicle repair.
In order to file a claim under the Crimes Compensation Act, the impaired driver accident must be reported within 72 hours. The victim has to suffer physical or psychological injury as a result, and the claim must be filed within one year after the accident. There may be other requirements to file a claim and restrictions on what types of damages are covered. Talk to your attorney about whether you may be able to claim additional compensation after an impaired driver accident.
Wrongful Death Claim
One of the most difficult things a family can endure is to lose a loved one as the result of an impaired driver accident. While nothing can repair the loss, a wrongful death claim can allow surviving family members to hold the person responsible who caused the deadly accident. In a wrongful death lawsuit, a spouse, parents, or children can seek damages from the impaired driver for loss of support, loss of companionship, loss of guidance, and mental suffering.
Florida Automobile Accident Attorney
Your Florida personal injury attorney will fight for you and make sure the impaired driver is held accountable for damages. They will negotiate with the insurance company to ensure that you receive full and fair compensation for your injuries. Koberlein Law Offices regularly appears before trial courts and represents accident victims in Columbia County, Alachua County, Suwannee County, Hamilton County, Lafayette County, Madison County, and Gilchrist County. To schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney, contact KLO online or call 386-269-9802 for Lake City or 352-519-4357 for Gainesville.