Being injured or losing a loved one in a vehicle accident is a horrible, traumatizing experience. This is compounded if you suspect the at-fault driver was recklessly driving intoxicated. Impaired driver accidents can be extremely serious and deadly. In 2013, 39% of all people killed in crashes in Illinois were killed by drunk drivers.
If your life has been impacted by a drunk driver who caused injuries, property damage, or loss of a loved one, you may be able to seek compensation.
Victim Compensation from Impaired Driver Accidents through Civil Lawsuits and the Criminal Case
The standards for evidence and the burden of proof are different in a civil case compared to a criminal case. In a criminal DUI case, the burden is on the government's prosecutor to prove the defendant (the drunk driver) was driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A guilty finding in a criminal case can lead to incarceration, loss of driving privileges, mandatory classes, and fines. In a civil case, the plaintiff (the victim) must show a “preponderance of evidence,” a much lower bar than a criminal case.
A victim can be compensated through a criminal case but to a lesser extent than a civil case. A guilty verdict in a criminal case may lead to the defendant being ordered to pay restitution to the victim for property damage and medical costs. However, a civil case allows a victim to seek compensation for a much wider array of damages, including pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of companionship, loss of future income, and future medical bills.
A criminal case could take a few years to resolve, especially if a trial is involved. Although waiting for a guilty verdict in the criminal case would make the civil claim easier to prove, there are many reasons why waiting may not be in your best interests.
A personal injury attorney who has experience in DUI cases can help you decide when the best time is to file your civil lawsuit. The lawsuit can proceed even while the criminal case is pending. The lawsuit can be filed even if the defendant is found not guilty in the criminal case.
Illinois Considers Impaired Drivers to Be Grossly Negligent
In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove that a defendant broke a law. In a civil case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant was negligent. If the drunk driver caused a death, the family can bring a wrongful death claim, discussed below.
A negligent driver is one who has failed to follow traffic laws or acted in an unsafe manner, and through their actions, has caused injuries to another person. An impaired driver may be found to be grossly negligent, which means the drunk driver had the intent to harm others or showed a complete disregard for the safety of others. If a drunk driver is found to be grossly negligent, they may have to pay punitive damages to the victim, in addition to compensation for medical bills and other losses.
In Illinois, a plaintiff can be barred from recovering any damages if the plaintiff is found to be mostly (51%) at fault for the accident. This means that, if a sober driver causes an accident with a drunk driver, the sober driver may be found to be 51% to 100% responsible for the accident and so won't recover any compensation, even though the other driver was drunk. If the sober driver is found to be equally or less than equally responsible for the accident, his or her compensation will be reduced by the proportion of guilt. For example, if the sober driver is 30% guilty, she or he will be awarded 70% of the total amount that otherwise would have been awarded.
A car accident victim generally has two years to file a lawsuit from the date of the accident but there are exceptions. A personal injury attorney can help you determine what deadlines apply to your particular case.
The Illinois Wrongful Death Act and the Loss of a Loved One to a Drunk Driver
Wrongful death lawsuits in Illinois are governed by the Wrongful Death Act. A wrongful death lawsuit is a means by which the family can recover compensation for the economic and emotional loss that the death of a loved one has caused by filing a lawsuit on behalf of the deceased.
The family generally has two years from the date of the accident to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit.
Evidence Proving the At-Fault Driver was Impaired
The police reports will be very important to proving the driver-at-fault (the suspect) was impaired. Your attorney will review the police reports which usually contain a standard set of evidence collected by the police. The evidence may include:
- Signs and symptoms: Police officers are trained to recognize signs associated with alcohol or drug impairment such as bloodshot eyes, muscle tremors, stumbling, swaying, slurred speech, confusion, and lethargy, mood swings.
- HGN: HGN stands for horizontal gaze nystagmus. This test measures the jerking of the eyes as the suspect looks side to side. If a person shows 4 of the 6 signs, there is a 77% certainty that the person has a blood alcohol level of .10 or higher. Only certified HGN technicians can administer the test.
- Walk and Turn: This test involves walking in a straight line. The officer watches for impairment signs such as losing balance and not following instructions.
- One Leg Stand: While the suspect balances on one foot, the officer watches for loss of balance.
- Finger-to-Nose: The suspect must keep their eyes closed while trying to touch the tip of their nose. Besides for the suspect's ability to complete the test, the officer is also watching for eyelid and muscle tremors.
- Blood, breath, or urine test: After the officer has established probable cause that the suspect is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the suspect is required, through Illinois's implied consent laws, to submit to a blood, breath, or urine test or face a suspension of driving privileges. The results of this test will be one of the most important pieces of evidence in the criminal case.
- Witness Statements: Statements from yourself or others who witnessed the accident or saw the driver in control of the vehicle will also be important. It must be established that the defendant was actually in control of the vehicle that caused the accident. Witnesses may have seen reckless driving behavior such as speeding or weaving.
Impaired Driver Accident Lawsuit Attorneys
If you were involved in an accident with a drunk driver, consider consulting with an Illinois vehicle accident attorney who has experience with impaired driver claims as soon as possible. Our attorneys have successfully represented victims of drunk drivers through Illinois. We can fight to ensure your rights are protected and to get you the compensation to help you recover. If you have suffered a financial or emotional injury at the hands of a drunk driver, contact the experienced Illinois vehicle accident attorneys at Benassi & Benassi.