- U.S. and Utah Drunk Driving Statistics
- DUI Accident Injuries
- Civil Drunk Driving Injury Lawsuit vs. Criminal Charges
- Proving the Driver’s Liability in a Utah Drunk Driving Accident Lawsuit
- A DUI Charge or Conviction May Be Used Evidence of Negligence
- Damages a Drunk Driving Accident Victim Can Recover
- Who Else Can a Drunk Driving Victim Sue Besides the Driver?
- What to Do if a Drunk Driver Hits You
- Speak With an Experienced Utah Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Today
Despite the ad campaigns, appeals for designated drivers, and even changes in Utah’s DUI laws to reduce alcohol-related accidents, drunken driving continues to injure and kill people in our state.
To victims of drunk driving accidents and their families, the irony is infuriating. Although we all know “buzzed” driving and driving while intoxicated are illegal and life-threatening, someone has one drink too many every day and gets behind the wheel, endangering themselves and their passengers along with other drivers and passengers, motorcycle and bicycle riders, and pedestrians.
The impaired driver’s decision to operate a car or truck while under the influence is selfish, careless, and reckless. Their innocent victims don’t get to choose, yet they must endure the consequences.
At Injury Smart Law, we see catastrophic and tragic results of the choice to drive drunk. We witness the challenges and grief that follow a DUI collision. We counsel and console the survivors, knowing the long journey of healing often includes exorbitant medical bills, loss of income, and physical and emotional scars that remain long after the crash.
Our lawyers relentlessly pursue the maximum amount of compensation for those living with the aftermath of an auto accident. We hold intoxicated drivers and those who negligently served them accountable for the damage they’ve done.
U.S. and Utah Drunk Driving Statistics
Blood alcohol content is commonly used across the country to measure intoxication. It is calculated by dividing the amount of alcohol in grams consumed by the person’s body weight in grams multiplied by 100. Gender plays a part, and the measurement can be adjusted accordingly.
Every U.S. state prohibits operating a motor vehicle if the driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 or higher. Drivers with a BAC at or above this level are automatically considered impaired under the law. The BAC limit for commercial drivers is 0.04.
Estimates suggest that as many as one-quarter to one-third of impaired drivers responsible for alcohol-related crashes have been previously arrested for DUI offenses.
Recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are chilling:
- Drunk driving crashes kill about 32 people in the U.S. every day – one every 45 minutes.
- In 2020, despite the pandemic, 11,654 people died in alcohol-impaired traffic accidents and crashes, a 14% jump from the year before.
The story is equally grim in Utah. At the end of 2018, Utah state law reduced the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for non-commercial drivers to .05, making Utah the first state in the country to adopt a BAC under .08. (Utah blazed a trail in 1983 when it was the first state to lower the limit from .10 to .08). The effect of the change was positive – initially.
According to another NHTSA study, in 2019, the first full year after Utah lowered the BAC cutoff, both drunk driving accidents resulting in death and the number of deaths from those crashes decreased by nearly 20%. Unfortunatley, the positive impact was short-lived.
Data from the Utah Department of Public Safety shows that fatalities following alcohol-related accidents dropped from 67 in 2018 to 35 in 2019, the numbers rose to 54 and 77 in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Similarly, fatal drunk driving crashes fell from 56 in 2018 to 34 in 2019 but increased to 51 and 66 over the next two years.
Behind every one of those figures is a person – a parent, a spouse, a child, a brother or sister, a friend – and each of their deaths could have been prevented.
DUI Accident Injuries
Not every alcohol-related motor vehicle accident ends in death, yet that does not mean the survivors’ injuries aren’t severe nor life altering.
Some of the most serious non-fatal injuries DUI accident victims sustain include:
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis.
- Organ damage.
- Loss of limbs.
- Broken and fractured bones.
- Neck injuries and whiplash.
- Knee, foot, and ankle injuries.
- Back and shoulder injuries.
- Cuts and lacerations.
Not all drunken driving accident injuries are physical. The emotional impact of a DUI crash can include post-traumatic stress disorder, fear of driving and mental distress.
Civil Drunk Driving Injury Lawsuit vs. Criminal Charges
Drunk driving, driving while intoxicated, driving under the influence, call it what you want, it is always bad. Regardless of what it’s called, operating a motor vehicle above the legal BAC limit is a crime.
In Utah, prosecutors and judges may treat a DUI as a misdemeanor or a felony. Depending on the driver’s blood alcohol content, age, and bodily injury or damage caused, a conviction may mean jail or prison time, a monetary fine, license suspension or revocation, and installation of an ignition interlock that requires the driver to provide a breath sample to start the engine.
Although the state may bring criminal charges against the intoxicated driver, victims who suffer injuries and the families of those killed can hold the driver accountable and pursue compensation in a personal injury lawsuit.
A Utah criminal drunk driving prosecution can move forward simultaneously with a civil case. If you are the victim, the prosecutor will likely call you to testify, but the prosecutor doesn’t represent you, nor is it their aim to prove your civil case for you. Instead, you’ll need to retain an experienced injury attorney to handle your civil claim. You should never pursue your claim without a lawyer.
Your attorney will advise you about the best time to file a lawsuit. It may be wise, for example, to wait until the driver is convicted or pleads guilty to a DUI charge because their criminal liability may help you win your negligence case and make it easier to get compensation for your injuries.
Utah sets a deadline (called a statute of limitations) or time frame by which you must file a civil suit. Drunk driving is an extreme form of negligence and personal injury, which means the DUI victim generally has four years from the date of the crash to initiate legal action. Four years may seem like a long time, but depending on medical treatment, rehabilitation, accident investigations, and other factors, it can pass quickly. That’s why contacting a lawyer at Injury Smart Law is crucial and maybe the most important decision you can make.
Proving the Driver’s Liability in a Utah Drunk Driving Accident Lawsuit
If you’re injured in an alcohol-impaired motor vehicle accident, there are certain legal requirements you must satisfy to prevail in a civil action against the intoxicated driver.
To satisfy Utah’s general principles of negligence law, you must prove to the court that:
- The driver owed you a legal duty of care (specifically, the duty not to consume alcohol and endanger the safety of others).
- The driver breached that duty.
- You suffered damages (physical and emotional injury, harm to property, financial loss, etc.)
- The driver’s breach of duty caused your damages.
Sometimes, the judge will decide if all four elements have been proven, but definitely the first two. If the case goes to a jury, the jurors will decide if you’ve met the requirements for the third and fourth elements. Your lawyer is responsible for gathering and analyzing all the evidence, researching the law, interviewing witnesses, and presenting your case.
A DUI Charge or Conviction May Be Used Evidence of Negligence
As described above, in any drunk driving accident lawsuit, the plaintiff (the person seeking compensation) must prove the defendant intoxicated driver was negligent, that their negligence caused the accident, and that the plaintiff suffered injuries and losses due to the negligence.
Proving negligence is often the most difficult part, but it becomes much easier when the police, prosecutors, and even the drunk driver provide the necessary evidence. The evidence Utah prosecutors introduce in court to secure drunk driving convictions is the same proof your attorney would use to establish your negligence case – police reports, breathalyzer or blood tests, accident reconstructions, witness statements, etc. A DUI conviction frequently serves as conclusive evidence.
Even if the drunk driver isn’t charged or convicted of a DUI, you might still be able to admit the evidence the police collected. Also, simply because the driver’s BAC was below the .05 legal limit doesn’t mean they weren’t impaired to act negligently.
Damages a Drunk Driving Accident Victim Can Recover
If an intoxicated or drunk driver’s negligence injured you, you might be entitled to damages for:
- Pain and suffering.
- Mental anguish and emotional distress.
- Worsening of existing injuries.
- Medical care and treatment costs.
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation expenses.
- Lost income from your inability to work.
- Loss of future wages and earning capacity.
- Loss of the ability to enjoy day-to-day activities.
- Damage to your property.
- Any other out-of-pocket expenses.
If the DUI accident causes someone’s death, the deceased person’s surviving spouse, children, legal guardian, or the legal representative of their estate can bring a suit for:
- The deceased’s medical expenses.
- Burial and funeral costs.
- The family’s pain and suffering.
- Loss of consortium or loss of relationship and companionship.
- Loss of the deceased’s income and support.
- Loss of the deceased’s medical or pension benefits.
- Punitive damages if the drunk driver was grossly negligent or their conduct was extreme, egregious, or intentionally harmful.
Utah has a victim compensation program for drunk driving victims who suffer physical or psychological injury. It also provides financial assistance to family members and dependents of people killed by a drunk driver. As helpful as these funds may be, they usually cover only a small portion of the losses resulting from an accident.
More than likely, the driver’s insurance company will defend them against your civil suit, and their lawyers will do everything they can to ensure you receive as little compensation as possible.
Who Else Can a Drunk Driving Victim Sue Besides the Driver?
In virtually every alcohol-impaired auto accident, the intoxicated driver’s negligence is to blame. There may be other parties whose negligence also contributed to the accident.
For example, suppose an employer hires a worker to drive its vehicles knowing the worker’s history of impaired driving. If the worker is intoxicated on the job, recklessly operates the employer’s vehicle, and causes a collision, a victim might claim the employer negligently hired or retained the worker, aware that the driver posed a safety risk to others.
Utah, like most states, has a “dram shop” statute that holds certain commercial establishments (i.e., bars, taverns, restaurants, liquor stores) responsible for the consequences of furnishing alcohol to someone who then injures others while intoxicated. There is also a “social host” statute that holds individuals liable under similar circumstances.
A dram shop lawsuit requires the drunk driving victim to show the commercial establishment willfully, and unlawfully served alcohol to a person under 21 or knowingly served alcohol to any person who was visibly intoxicated.
Individuals who throw private parties in their homes can be held accountable for accidents caused by an underage guest who drives drunk if the hosts knowingly served alcohol to minors or knowingly provided a place for minors to consume alcohol.
Generally, the victim can recover the same kinds of damages in negligent hiring, dram shop, and social host claims as they could in a negligence claim against the impaired driver. This can be beneficial when the driver doesn’t have the assets to pay a judgment against them. Commercial establishments that furnish alcohol and businesses that employ drivers typically have insurance coverage for these situations.
What to Do if a Drunk Driver Hits You
If you are injured in a DUI driver accident, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention at the scene. Record the contact information and insurance details of the drunk driver and other drivers, if possible, along with the names and contact information of any witnesses. Take photos of the crash scene and damage to your vehicle with your cell phone. Even if you don’t think you need it, follow up with additional medical evaluation and treatment because many car crash injuries don’t appear right away.
Preserving evidence and gathering information when it’s fresh can be critical to proving your case later.
Speak With an Experienced Utah Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Today
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a Utah drunk driving accident, Injury Smart Law is here to help you through this difficult time. Our experienced and proven attorneys fight hard for victims and families and hold drunk drivers responsible for the pain and loss they have caused.
To schedule a consultation and learn more about how we will fight for you, contact us today.