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Drunk Driving Accidents: Liable Parties, Damages, and Legal Recourse

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Filed under Automotive, Editorial

Drunk driving is a serious issue in Washington that can have severe consequences for drivers and potential victims. One of the most significant pain points associated with drunk driving is the immediate danger it poses to those on the road; even at low levels of intoxication, drivers are more prone to issues such as impaired judgment and reaction time, making it incredibly dangerous for them and anyone else on the road. It also has long-term effects, including criminal charges, fines, community service, license suspension or revocation, possible jail time, and increased insurance premiums. Beyond this, there are emotional impacts to consider when someone is convicted of drunk driving, such as feelings of guilt and shame that can be highly damaging.

According to the Seattle Police Department, there were over 350 drunk driving accidents in Seattle in 2021. Of these, 170 resulted in injury or death, and 180 led to property damage only. Additionally, approximately 30% of drunk driving cases involved drivers under 21, followed by drivers aged 21-30 with 25%. Drivers aged 51-60 accounted for 13% of drunk driving cases during this period. If you or a loved one was involved in a car accident, find a local drunk driving accident lawyer to navigate the legal system and receive fair compensation. The following is an overview of some of the basics to remember when involved in a drunk driving accident on the road.

Liable Parties

Proving liability in drunk driving accidents can be complex because of the number of responsible parties. The following parties will likely bear responsibility:

The Drunk Driver

Drunk drivers typically have full liability in a car accident as they acted unsafely and negligently. Depending on the jurisdiction, they could face civil and criminal penalties, including fines, jail time, license suspension or revocation, community service, and more. Additionally, if someone is injured during the accident, the driver may be held responsible for paying any resulting medical expenses and damages associated with the crash. In most cases, the degree of negligence by the driver will directly impact how much liability rests on their shoulders.

Social Hosts

If a social host is found to have supplied alcohol to an underage person or knowingly allowed an intoxicated guest to operate a vehicle, they may be held liable for any resulting damages caused by the drunk driver. Depending on the jurisdiction, the social host’s liability can range from partial to full responsibility for the accident and its consequences. This could include civil penalties such as payment of medical expenses and damages associated with the crash and criminal charges that may include fines, community service, and more.

Dram Shop Liability

A dram shop is a business, such as a bar or a restaurant, that serves alcohol to guests. If they serve alcohol to an underage individual or someone already visibly intoxicated, they may be liable for any resulting damages caused by the drunk driver. Many states, including Washington, have dram shop laws to prevent drunk driving accidents. Nightclubs, liquor stores, restaurants, theaters, convenience stores, and other businesses can be answerable alongside the driver.

The Driver’s Employers

Freight companies and others in the transport industry can also be held liable for the actions of a drunk driver using a company vehicle. In some jurisdictions, an employer may be responsible even if they had no knowledge or awareness that their employee was operating a vehicle while under the influence. Commercial drivers are often required to prove sobriety before starting up the vehicle. This can be done by installing a breathalyzer. 

Type of Damages Incurred After a Drunk Driving Accident

A drunk driving accident can lead to serious injuries for all parties involved. You must understand the various types so it becomes easier to formulate a legal case. 

Economic Damages

These are quantifiable losses for current and future expenses directly tied to the injuries suffered in the drunk driving accident. Ideally, ‘general damages’ are awarded to restore the victims to their previous financial position before the accident occurred. The victims might lose earnings from work while shouldering a medical care burden. All the damages that have a monetary worth fall under this category. Common economic damages include:

  • Lost income
  • Lost future employment opportunities or earnings
  • Current and long-term medical costs
  • Mental health therapy costs
  • Vehicle repair/replacement

Non-Economic Damages

Some losses after a drunk driving accident lack a monetary equivalent. It is difficult, or impossible, to quantify these losses. For example, putting a price on a life lost to drunk driving is difficult. Nonetheless, there are a few non-economic damages that can be recovered. It includes:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Physical disfigurement and skin damage
  • Loss of limbs
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of the ability to enjoy life

Insurance companies tend to downplay these damages, especially because they are difficult to prove. A seasoned drunk driving accident lawyer can help quantify non-monetary damages, prove liability, and recover compensation for non-economic damages.

Legal Recourse

Legal recourse after a drunk driving accident is appropriate for two main reasons: to hold the responsible party accountable for their actions and to seek damages to help pay for the costs associated with the accident. Holding the responsible party accountable helps ensure that they are held to a certain standard of behavior, especially in cases where someone’s negligence or reckless behavior has caused another person harm. Seeking damages also allows victims to recoup medical expenses and property damage resulting from the accident and compensate them for any pain and suffering they may have endured due to the incident.

Victim Restitution

This is a form of legal remedy sought by the victim of a crime to recoup losses or damages suffered due to the crime. It typically includes financial compensation for any medical costs, damage to property due to the crime, and payment for intangible losses such as pain, suffering, and emotional distress. In some cases, the offender may be ordered to perform certain services or tasks for the victim as part of their restitution.

Civil Lawsuit

This is an important legal process after a drunk driving accident. It allows victims to seek compensation for any medical costs, property damage incurred due to the accident, and potential damages related to pain and suffering. It also holds the responsible party accountable for their actions, helping uphold public safety standards and discouraging reckless behavior. Finally, civil lawsuits can often act as a deterrent against future drunk driving incidents by forcing individuals who have been convicted of such crimes to face financial penalties.


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