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Injured by a Drunk Driver: Legal Options Explained by a Personal Injury Lawyer

Shay + Associates Law Firm personal injury lawyer in Springfield and Decatur, Illinois

What You Need to Know About Compensation

Injuries from a car accident are always challenging. Luckily, there are ways you can get compensation for your medical costs and other sources of lost income. When you’re hit by a drunk driver, seeking compensation becomes even more important.

Injuries involving a DUI driver are often severe. People under the influence of alcohol do not try to slow down or may even drive in the wrong lane, increasing the risk for injury due to unchecked recklessness. If you’ve been hurt by a drunk driver, here’s what you need to know about seeking compensation and identifying the people responsible for damages.

Priorities After the Accident

After the accident, your main concern should be getting all the medical care you need for your injuries. You may need surgery, a long hospital stay and/or assessments from specialists. These can be costly. The police report of the accident should allow you access to the driver’s name and insurance company.

You should contact your own auto insurance company to inform them of the car accident, but because Illinois is an “at fault” state, the person responsible for the accident is also responsible for your medical bills. The DUI driver’s insurance company will be the one who pays the bills. Your health insurance may cover some costs initially and then seek reimbursement from the car insurance company.

However, many insurance companies have a liability cap for how much they will pay out. At this point, it’s important to keep a careful record of all doctor visits and bills. You might need more money than what insurance can provide, and you shouldn’t have to foot the bills yourself.

If the at-fault driver does not have insurance, your own insurance company may provide some payment if you have purchased uninsured motorist coverage.

Because seeking insurance compensation can be so complex, it’s very important to contact a car accident attorney as soon as you can to help you sort through what you are owed by law.

Criminal Charges and Civil Suits

Most DUI drivers face some sort of criminal charges. Because you were injured in the car accident, a public prosecutor may ask you to testify in court about the accident or to provide a statement about your injuries and what you recall from the time the accident occurred. If the driver is convicted, they will face legal consequences, including fees, loss of license and jail time.

However, criminal conviction will not provide any compensation for your own injuries. With your lawyer, you’ll have to open a civil personal injury case against the driver, seeking for more compensation. However, the criminal conviction will help you gain momentum in your civil suit, so you should be eager to help the prosecutor bring the at-fault driver to justice.

The civil case is usually essential to getting the damages you need. Many insurance companies will not pay out enough, or they may refuse to pay based on contestation of who is at fault. You can be fully paid for medical costs, loss of employment and other monetary losses. In some cases, you may also sue for non-specific damages, like pain and suffering or emotional distress.

In some cases, the driver has no insurance, so the case is against the driver alone. Unfortunately, without a wealthy insurance company to back up claims, suing a driver personally can sometimes be fruitless. Many people do not have significant assets to pay out a large sum, even if you win your case. However, for perpetrators who have great personal wealth, a direct suit can be fruitful.

Other Liable Parties

There may be more than one person responsible for your car accident. The driver, of course, is the main at-fault party. However, social host or vendor liability laws (also known as “dram shop laws”) can hold a vendor or furnisher of alcohol responsible for damages under certain circumstances.

Under the Illinois Liquor Control Act, a vendor may be responsible for damages if the vendor provided the alcohol to the person that injured you and if the intoxication was the direct cause of your injuries. Unlike other states, the vendor is not protected by whether or not a person should have been “cut off” or whether or not the establishment already knew the person drinking was intoxicated.

However, even though vendors are held to a high standard under the law, social hosts are not. If a person was drinking at a party or private residence, for example, instead of at a business, you couldn’t sue the property owner who provided the drinks.

The only exception is for under-age attendees. If your driver was not yet 21 and obtained alcohol at a party or hotel, the person who hosted the party or paid for the minor to gain entrance to the event could face responsibility for damages.

For more information about what you can do to seek compensation after being hit by a drunk driver, contact a personal injury lawyer at Shay & Associates.

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