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Five Ways Drunk Driving Accidents Are Different in New York

Drunk driving accidents continue to be a major problem in New York State. According to the most recent statistics available from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2013, there were:

 8,368 alcohol-related collisions in our state 4,250 of those crashes involved non-fatal injuries 358 accidents resulted in deaths.

Additionally, as a result of these crashes:

 6,019 people sustained some type of injury 387 people lost their lives.

Out of the 11,251 drivers involved in these crashes, 7,898 of them were reportedly driving drunk.

If you have suffered injury or lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, it is important to understand that these cases can be different from other types of crashes. We think the following are five key differences to keep in mind:

1. Drunk drivers may be sued for damages.


New York is a “no-fault” state. If you suffer personal injury in an auto accident, you can file a claim with your own insurer for economic losses caused by the crash such as medical expenses and lost wages. To recover, you do not need to show that anyone else was at fault.

However, if your economic losses exceed $50,000, you may pursue a legal claim against the driver who caused the crash. You would seek to recover from the driver’s liability insurance coverage.

You can also pursue a claim against the other driver for non-economic losses – pain and suffering – if you sustained what is considered to be a “serious injury” such as a fracture, disfigurement or loss of the use of an organ or limb, or if you lost a loved one. In this type of case, you would need to establish fault.

In many drunk driving accident cases, claims are brought to recover from the drunk driver’s liability insurance. The driver’s fault is based on his or her operation of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol.

2. Criminal and civil drunk driving cases may overlap.


When a drunk driving crash occurs, two types of cases may result: a criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit. These are two distinct cases. However, they naturally overlap in many ways.

As we stated above, recovering damages in a civil lawsuit through the drunk driver’s liability insurance requires proof of fault. Establishing fault often involves evidence collected during the driver’s criminal prosecution, including:

  • Field sobriety test evidence
  • Breath and blood test results
  • Witness statements about the driver’s condition (such as the smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath or the fact that the driver was stumbling or driving erratically).

If a driver pleads guilty to or is found guilty by a jury of a drunk driving offense, this can help to establish “negligence per se” in the civil case. However, even if there is no conviction, a civil case can still be pursued against a drunk driver.

3. Parties other than the drunk driver can be liable.


A major focus of any car accident investigation is determining all parties who should be held liable for the injuries and damages a victim has suffered. In a drunk driving accident case, for instance, there may be many other parties besides the driver who can be held responsible.

For instance, under New York’s Dram Shop Act, you could pursue action against a bar, restaurant or store who sold alcohol to the driver who hit you if, at the time of the sale, the driver was “visibly intoxicated” or “actually or apparently” under the age of 21.

Additionally, under New York’s social host liability law, any person who provides or assists a person under age 21 with alcohol may be held liable for an accident that results from the driver’s intoxication.

In some cases, a drunk driver’s employer may be held responsible. For instance, if a truck driver caused a crash because he or she was impaired by alcohol while on the road making a delivery, the trucking company could be named in a legal action.

4. Insurance companies take drunk driving accident cases seriously.


An insurance company may be facing a large payout in a drunk driving accident case. This is because the driver’s fault may be clearly established, and the extent of physical, emotional and financial harm suffered by the drunk driver’s victim(s) may be extensive.

Knowing what is at stake, an insurance company may vigorously contest a case instead of presenting a full and fair settlement offer. This is why it is important for victims to seek help from an experienced car accident attorney who will be careful in establishing the victim’s right to a recovery and aggressive when dealing with insurance companies.

5. Punitive damages are often sought in drunk driving accident cases.


Finally, it should be noted that punitive damages may be sought in drunk driving accident cases. This is because drunk driving amounts to the type of egregious misconduct that punitive damages are intended to punish and deter.

However, in New York, insurance companies are not required to pay punitive damage awards as a matter of public policy. As a result, you would need to turn to the drunk driver’s personal assets to recover the punitive damages portion of any award.

Study Shows Increase in Drugged Driving

A new federal report finds that drunk driving is on the decline in the U.S Unfortunately, that encouraging news is accompanied by some disturbing findings, including that more people are driving under the influence of illegal drugs such as marijuana.

One out of every five drivers who participated in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use tested positive for drugs that could endanger the lives of other motorists, the NHTSA announced in early February.

Researchers gathered toxicology samples from drivers who stopped to participate in the voluntary, anonymous roadside survey.

The researchers found that the number of weekend nighttime drivers who had drugs in their system was 20 percent, up from the 16.3 percent who tested positive when the last survey was conducted in 2007.

The number of drivers under the influence of marijuana increased by almost 50 percent, according to the findings.

In contrast, the number of drivers who had evidence of alcohol in their systems decreased by one-third since 2007 – a decline that transportation officials attribute to the combined efforts of the federal government, states, and advocacy groups making the elimination of drunk driving a national priority.

The Challenge of Eliminating Drugged Driving

By no means should we turn our attention away from drunk driving, which still claims the lives of thousands of people every year and injures even more.

However, the findings of the NHTSA study show that it is time for increased awareness about how widespread drugged driving is in the U.S., especially because many Americans may not realize that taking some of their own prescription medications can make them lethal behind the wheel.

In a press release, the NHTSA discussed the findings of a recent landmark survey assessing whether marijuana use by drivers contributes to more car accidents. Researchers found that drivers who had marijuana in their systems were more likely to crash, but also indicated that they were often members of groups that are already at high risk for wrecks such as younger men.

In New York, a law was enacted in 2014 that allows certain patients to use marijuana for medical reasons. As states across the nation enact or debate similar measures in the coming years, it will be essential that transportation agencies continue to study the prevalence of drugged driving

Experts acknowledge that they face challenges when studying drugged driving. For instance, while much research has been done to show the relationship between alcohol consumption and the impaired ability to drive, there has not been as much research when it comes to drugs.

Also, a driver can test positive for drugs like marijuana even weeks after ingesting the substance. This makes it a challenge to prove whether impairment played a role in a particular crash.

Driving While Impaired by Prescription Drugs Can Be Avoided

Many people erroneously believe that car accidents involving legal drugs involve drivers on painkillers. However, many approved, over-the-counter drugs like antihistamines and cold medications can cause impairment as well.

This is why it is essential to read drug labels and heed warnings not to drive or operate machinery until you know how the drug affects you. It is also a good idea to tell your doctor or pharmacist about all of the medications that you are taking before obtaining a prescription for something else. The interactions between the drugs may cause impairments that might not happen otherwise.

At Powers & Santola, LLP, we understand the complexity of cases involving drugged driving. We work closely with experts who can help us to determine whether drug use contributed to an accident that harmed you or a loved one.

For more information, contact our lawyers for a free consultation.

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