What Are My Rights After a Drunk Driving Accident?

While there have been tremendous strides in the fight against drunk driving, it has remained one of the leading causes of preventable car accidents for decades. Today, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate that nearly 30 people in the U.S. die in alcohol-related car accidents every day. That’s equivalent to one drunk driving fatalities every 50 minutes, and thousands of injuries and deaths each year.

Because drunk driving is such a serious concern on public roadways, and especially so during summer months and holidays, laws against driving under the influence are critical to holding negligent motorists accountable for making unlawful and dangerous decisions behind the wheel. Although drunk drivers can be held criminally accountable for driving impaired, victims injured by those motorists need to understand that criminal cases concern only whether or not a defendant is guilty of a crime, and are not a viable source of compensation. As such, victims will need to assert their rights and pursue the justice and financial recoveries they deserve by filing personal injury lawsuits in civil court.

At Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP, our Cleveland personal injury lawyers have decades of collective experience fighting for victims and families who suffer harm through no fault of their own, including victims injured in drunk driving accidents. To help you better understand your rights when it comes to holding drunk drivers civilly accountable, we’ve detailed a few key points worth knowing:

Civil Cases – Personal injury cases are handled in the civil justice system, and they are separate matters from any criminal cases against a drunk driver. Because civil cases use a different burden of proof than criminal cases (a preponderance of the evidence as compared to beyond a reasonable doubt), they focus on holding wrongdoers financially liable for the damages suffered by victims, rather than the criminal guilt of a driver.

Elements of a Drunk Driving Case – As mentioned above, victims who pursue personal injury cases after being harmed by drunk drivers must prove that another motorist should be held responsible for the damages they suffered. Accomplishing this requires evidence of a few important legal elements, including:

  • Existence of a Legal Duty – Victims must prove that a legal duty existed between them and the defendant. In cases involving auto accidents, this element is typically satisfied in showing that motorists have a legal obligation to safely operate their vehicles.
  • Breach of Duty – A valid personal injury lawsuit must further illustrate that a defendant failed to uphold the duty of care they owed to victims. This is referred to as a breach of duty, and it often arises as a result of negligence. Driving under the influence, which any reasonable person knows is illegal and incredibly unsafe, constitutes a motorist’s failure to safely operate their vehicle.
  • Causation – Victims must demonstrate how a breach of duty more likely than not resulted in their accident and injury. Proving causation is an essential part of any personal injury lawsuit, and it will vary from case to case. In terms of drunk driving accidents, proving causation may require investigations and evidence which demonstrate how a driver’s intoxication likely led them to cause a crash – such as when they drive erratically or run a red light due to their impairment.
  • Damages ­– Victims will only have a valid personal injury case if they suffered actual damages as a result of the defendant’s negligence. Proving damages generally means showing how an accident caused injuries and losses in the victim’s life.

Financial Compensation – In car accident cases, the ultimate objective is to hold the at-fault driver liable for the damages victims suffered. This means recovering financial compensation for things like medical expenses (past and future), lost income, pain and suffering, emotional injuries, and more. In some cases, including those involving catastrophic injuries or wrongful death, family members of victims may also be entitled to compensation.

Drunk driving is a dangerous, illegal, and inconsiderate act that should never be tolerated. If you or someone you love has been harmed by an impaired motorist, our legal team at Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP is available to help you understand your rights and how we can guide you through the personal injury claim process toward the compensation you deserve. Contact us for a FREE consultation.


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