In other words, just because a driver is being punished by the state for getting behind the wheel while drunk does not keep you from being able to file a drunk driving lawsuit. While you certainly want to see justice done and the driver be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, you do not want to miss your only opportunity to receive damages for your injuries. Therefore, you need to take legal action to protect your interests. The Chicago drunk driving accident attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC are committed to protecting your legal rights.
Alcohol, Marijuana & Other Drugs Covered Under Illinois DUI Laws
Driving under the influence applies to any substance that can impair you while driving. This includes both alcohol and cannabis which is legal for medicinal usage in Illinois. Driving under the influence can include illegal drugs, prescription medication, and the combined influence of alcohol and drugs. Those who are guilty of DUI can face up to a year of jail time, up to $2,500 in fines, and a minimum of one-year license suspension. If they cause injury to someone else by driving while impaired, they can be civilly liable for the injuries.
Statistics About DUI Accidents in Illinois and Nationwide
In 2018, there were over 26,000 DUI arrests in Illinois. Nationwide, roughly 30 million people admit to getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. In Illinois, there is a "Zero Tolerance" policy for drunk drivers which results in many of them losing their driver's license for a conviction, but this does not help people who have been hurt by drunk drivers.
Drunk driving is a national and local problem that shows no signs of getting any better. Across the United States, over 10,000 people have been killed in accidents with drunk drivers every year since 2009. More than one out of every four traffic deaths in the U.S. have alcohol as a factor. In Illinois, there were 291 fatalities in alcohol-related crashes in 2018 which makes up 29 percent of the traffic fatalities in the state.
In addition to the fatalities, there are countless injuries each year. The combination of the injuries and deaths result in steep costs to society caused by drunk drivers. In 2010, the total economic costs of drunk driving injuries and deaths was estimated at $44 billion each year, and the number has likely gone up in the past decade.
DUI Civil Lawsuits for Personal Injuries and Wrongful Death
The state would take criminal action against the drunk driver but that would not do anything to pay you for the injuries that you have suffered. You would need to initiate your own civil lawsuit against the drunk driver. To do this, you will likely need a drunk driving attorney on your side who is familiar with how to file and prosecute a drunk driving lawsuit.
One of the areas where drunk driving lawsuits are different than a regular car accident lawsuit is the possibility that you may receive punitive damages from the driver. A usual car accident lawsuit may result in the finding that the other driver has been negligent. In general, this is associated with the idea that they failed to exercise due care while driving on the road. The customary damages are economic and non-economic damages that are intended to put you in the same position as if the accident never happened in the first place.
When a driver's actions are either extremely reckless or even intentional, they may also be hit with punitive damages by a jury. This is designed to penalize them for actions that are well beyond the range of what is acceptable. These are usually actions that shock the conscience or are extreme in some other way. Getting behind the wheel with an extremely high blood alcohol content is an example of a shocking action, especially when it harms an innocent driver and their family.
What is Driving Under the Influence in Illinois?
In Illinois, the legal limit for blood alcohol level while driving is .08. For women, this level can be reached with three drinks. In the average man, it would take four drinks to raise the blood alcohol to this level. However, different people react in different manners to alcohol and you can be intoxicated with less than three to four drinks.
Your reactions and driving ability can even diminish with fewer than three drinks. For example, when the blood alcohol level is .05, drivers can experience some loss of reflex control and lowered alertness. Note that one does not have to be legally drunk in order to be impaired by alcohol. Even for those with lower blood alcohol measures, alcohol can still be a factor in the crash and evidence of alcohol consumption could still come into play in a drunk driving court case. In other words, you do not need to be legally drunk to be responsible for alcohol-related injuries.
Why DUI Accidents can be Worse
When you are the one impacted by a drunk driving accident, the costs can be considerable. Drunk driving accidents can be worse than a regular car crash because the driver's complete lack of control over the car can result in crashed that can be worse. The injuries can be caused by:
- Motorists driving the wrong way on a highway resulting in a head on crash (In Illinois, driving the wrong way down a one-way road is an aggravating factor in a drunk driving arrest given the level of danger for head-on crashes)
- Drivers operating the car at an excessive rate of speed which increases the risk of serious injury in a crash
- Drivers swerving across the roadway or making dangerous turns that can run you off the road
- Young adults are most likely to be behind the wheel, and the alcohol combines with inexperience to cause dangerous conditions.
DUI Accident Damages Available to People Serious Injured in Chicago
Chicago drunk driving injuries can lead to a number of physical and economic damages. The State of Illinois estimates that the medical costs to treat an injury sustained in a DUI crash at over $100,000.
In addition to the medical costs to treat injuries, there are also a number of different injuries that you can suffer in a drunk driving accident. The damages can be wide-ranging and extensive. They can include the following:
- Lost wages for time missed from work both in the past and future. Many drunk driving accident victims are unable to return to work after the accident, especially if they have a physical job.
- Accidents victims can be compensated for their injuries, including pain and suffering.
- Spouses who have experienced loss in a drunk driving accident can receive damages for loss of consortium.
- If the motorist is killed in an accident, the family would be able to obtain wrongful death damages.
Potential Defendants in a DUI Lawsuit
As you will see below, there are numerous possible defendants in a DUI case. In many cases, the plaintiff cannot recover much from the driver because there are policy limits on the insurance. Ideally, those looking to file a DUI lawsuit will be able to find a way to file a lawsuit against a defendant who has deeper pockets than the driver of the vehicle. Here are some possible DUI lawsuit defendants:
- The driver of the vehicle - Of course, the motorist who was driving under the influence would be liable for the damage that they caused in the accident. The motorist could be liable if they themselves struck the driver or if the injured driver was hit by the police during a chase (assuming that the police acted reasonably during the chase)
- The driver's employer - If the driver was in the company car at the time of the accident and was on duty, there is a possible lawsuit against the company that employed the driver since they would be considered to be an agent of their employer. This would not apply if the driver was taking the company car for personal business.
- The police department - In some cases, including one described below, the police department could be pursuing the drunk driver when it is not safe to do so. Then, the police would be legally liable for the injuries in the DUI accident, even if it was not the police that struck the driver.
- The establishment where the drunk motorist was served - In Illinois, as in many states, there are something called "dram laws." These laws hold a bar or tavern responsible for injuries caused by the drunk driver. In Illinois, the law does not even require that the establishment knowingly serve to an intoxicated patron. The establishment is simply liable for damage caused by their patrons who consume alcohol. These laws only apply to a commercial establishment. If the intoxicated driver got drunk at a friend's house, the friend would not be liable.
Chicago Drunk Driving Injury Law FAQs
Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about Chicago drunk driving accident lawsuits.
What Must I Prove to Win a DUI Lawsuit?
You would still need to prove negligence, but the other driver being impaired can become a large part of the considerations in court.
Generally, DUI cases will be easier to prove than a regular car accident case. That is because if you are able to prove that the driver was behind the wheel when they were intoxicated, you have taken a very large step to proving that they were negligent.
Usually, one of the main areas of inquiry in a car accident lawsuit is whether the driver failed to uphold the standard of care that is expected of a driver on the road. This means that they acted in a way that a reasonable driver would not. Driving while under the influence is something that would be considered per se unreasonable.
In order to prove a DUI lawsuit, you will need to demonstrate in court that the driver was under the influence. If their blood alcohol level is over .08, it should not be too difficult to prove your case. If the other driver had a couple of drinks but did not have a blood alcohol content above the legal limit, they can still be liable, but it would be more difficult to prove.
When it comes to a DUI lawsuit, the question is whether the other driver was under the influence. The maximum level of .08 in Illinois is exactly that; it is the maximum blood alcohol content that is allowable. Amounts under this can still be the grounds for a DUI accident case.
Is There a Presumption That a Drunk Driver is at Fault for the Accident?
Most likely yes, but not in every case.
So long as the driver is so impaired that they could not drive in the same way as a driver of ordinary skill would, they would likely be viewed to be at fault for the accident. If the driver is drunk and there is a crash, the jury would most likely view the drunk driver to be at fault for it.
However, the usual rules of comparative negligence would still apply. Even if the other driver is impaired, you would also still have an obligation to drive safely and reasonably. For example, if the other driver was drunk, but you also did something that was unsafe, it could affect your ability to recover for your injuries in court. If the direct cause of the accident was that you were recklessly speeding, you may not be able to recover even if the other driver was impaired. This is because of the principles of comparative negligence. In Illinois, this prevents a driver who is more than 50 percent responsible for an accident from recovering for their injuries in court. Therefore, the way in which you were driving is also something for the jury to consider even if the other driver was drunk.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Drunk Driving Lawsuit in Illinois?
While there is no legal requirement to have an attorney represent you, hiring a lawyer will provide you with the most effective advocacy on your behalf.
If you have been injured in a drunk driving accident, you will be dealing with many things after the accident if you are even able to handle anything at all. Your injuries may prevent you from taking any steps to be compensated for your injuries. This means that you cannot deal with the insurance company and will not be in any position to handle your own claim.
Drunk driving claims may also be hard to value given the extent of the injuries and the fact that the other driver has done something so shocking that may warrant punitive damages. Your injuries may prevent you from working so that could also add another element that makes your claim difficult to place a value on and open to many different suggestions.
An Illinois DUI accident attorney can help you and your family through all stages of the process. They can negotiate your claim with the insurance company and take the case to court if the settlement offer is not enough to compensate you for your injuries. The attorney will be both your advisor and your legal advocate when you are not effectively able to fight for yourself.
Even if the accident is very clearly the fault of the drunk driver, obtaining the right settlement amount is not always easy. Sometimes, the most challenging thing about drunk driver cases is getting enough compensation and it is something that you cannot easily do on your own.
How Long do I Have to File a Drunk Driving Accident Lawsuit in Illinois?
You will need to file the lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires.
In Illinois, the statute of limitations for a personal injury lawsuit involving a drunk driving accident is two years from the time that you knew or should have known of the accident. The statute of limitations is a very unforgiving rule, meaning that if you miss it by a day, you lose the ability to file a lawsuit. Therefore, it is essential to file a strong claim with the court before this date.
The court will generally not pay much attention to any excuses that a plaintiff would have for not filing their lawsuit in time. This means that being injured and not being able to work on a lawsuit would not be a reason why the court would allow the deadline to be postponed.
This increases the importance of having a drunk driving accident attorney on your side to help you through your case.
Will my Chicago Drunk Driving Accident Case Settle Out of Court?
Your drunk driving lawsuit case most likely will settle out of court based on the statistics.
An overwhelming majority of DUI accident cases are settled out of court. In most of these cases, the defendant's conduct is so reprehensible that they will not want to end up anywhere close to a jury. Plaintiffs who are injured in a DUI accident are even more sympathetic to the jury and defendants know that. Therefore, it is very likely that you will receive a settlement offer before the case is set to go to trial.
The insurance company will generally want no part of a DUI trial. There is too much risk for them because a jury can send a strong message with a high punitive damages award. In many cases, insurance companies will settle a DUI case that is filed for the policy limit, leaving the plaintiff to look for other sources of damages to fully compensate their injuries.
Sample DUI Settlements and Jury Verdicts From Across Illinois
DUI lawsuits and claims can result in large settlements and awards for the victims, depending on the facts and circumstances of the accident. Here are some DUI verdicts and settlements in Illinois related to personal injury and wrongful death.
Plaintiff Verdict for $45,000,000 in 2019 - The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the estate of a woman who was killed by a driver under the influence of drugs or a controlled substance when she was travelling in her car with her three minor children. The driver of the other vehicle intentionally crossed the center line and was driving on the wrong side of the road when he struck the woman's car. The defendant had already been convicted of first-degree murder in connection with this incident and the court used that as evidence of the driver's liability before making the verdict.
Settlement for $20,000,000 in 2018 - Two plaintiffs died in an accident that was caused by a police officer who was driving while intoxicated. The two decedents were on the side of the road because they had a flat tire when their vehicle was struck by the officer who was driving by at an unreasonable speed. Their vehicle exploded upon impact. The intoxicated officer left the scene of the accident with the victims still trapped inside the burning car. The lawsuit alleged that the officer had a history of drunk driving, but no disciplinary action was taken due to the reluctance of officers to speak against a colleague and punish a fellow officer.
Settlement for $2,760,000 in 2017 - The lawsuit was brought on behalf of the estate of a 28-year old man who was riding on his bicycle when he was sideswiped by a car being driven by the allegedly drunk defendant. The man was killed in the accident. The defendant had been drinking at a company holiday party before the accident. Most of the settlement was paid by the defendant's employer which was responsible for the defendant's alcohol consumption before the accident. In addition, the owner of the restaurant where the company's holiday party was held also settled a lawsuit under the dram shop liability laws.
Settlement for $5.25 million in 2014 - The plaintiff was critically injured and paralyzed when he was struck by a motorist who was driving intoxicated and was trying to avoid the police in a chase. At the time of the accident, the drunk motorist was traveling at over 100 miles per hours and had run a red light. Here, the lawsuit was filed against the county that employed the police officer who was pursuing the intoxicated motorist. The lawsuit claimed that the police should have given up the chase since it was apparent that continuing it would have resulted in injury to bystanders. The lawsuit claimed that the officer failed to take the proper safety measures.
Plaintiff Verdict for $1.3 million in 2012 - The lawsuit was brought on behalf of a plaintiff who died when the car in which he was riding as a passenger was struck by the intoxicated defendant. In addition to the jury verdict, the plaintiffs also filed and settled a dram shop lawsuit against the establishment where the defendant was drinking. Finally, the family also filed a lawsuit against the hospital where the decedent was treated because he developed bedsores and suffered in the time before he died.
Have You Been Injured in a DUI Accident? Get Legal Help now
The attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Law are here to help you if you or a family member has been injured in a DUI-related accident. From the start of the case until the very end, we can assist you in effectively seeking the compensation that you deserve for your DUI accident injuries. Our services come on a contingency basis, meaning that we are not paid unless you are successful in receiving compensation. If not, you do not owe us anything. Contact us today to set up your free initial consultation so you can find out how we can help you or your family member.