The following blog article was updated in January 2022.
Automobile accidents happen daily, but when those accidents result in fatalities due to one driver being intoxicated, someone must be held accountable for the lives lost and injuries sustained.
Washington State has imposed strict laws against drunk driving, including harsh penalties for offenders. The state’s anti-drunk-driving laws lowered the acceptable blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent a few years ago and enforced the loss of the offender’s driver’s license for any drunk driver convicted – including first-time offenders.
Also, DUIs are treated as gross misdemeanors in the state. But if a death or serious injury occurs, the driver intoxicated at the time of the accident may face harsher criminal penalties.
While criminal charges are evident with a DUI car accident, one thing you might not realize is that victims of those accidents can receive compensation from the at-fault driver. Victims of drunk driving accidents have rights, and they can receive funds for their monetary losses in the accident with the help of a DUI accident attorney.
DUI Laws Spokane Residents Need to Know
Washington, like other states, has their own unique set of laws that address drunken driving. The state not only prohibits anyone from driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher but there are also enhanced criminal penalties for a person who is operating with a BAC of 0.15 or higher.
The state does not do sobriety checkpoints. Therefore, on holidays and weekends, there may be drivers out on the road who are intoxicated.
While a DUI typically involves alcohol, you must realize that DUIs can include prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and recreational drugs – including marijuana. Washington did legalize the use of marijuana, but it is still illegal to operate a vehicle if you have a THC level of 5 nanograms or more. If the THC level is five nanograms or higher, you have committed a DUI too.
Criminal and Civil Proceedings Are Separate
If a person is drunk at the scene of the accident, they are likely to be arrested and charged with a DUI. Criminal proceedings are there to punish the offender and serve as a reminder to the public about what happens if you break the law.
Criminal prosecution occurs even when a person is driving under the influence without an accident. The accident may influence the criminal proceedings by adding further criminal charges, such as manslaughter. The state seeks justice for the driver’s actions, but they do not seek compensation for you. They will arrest and incarcerate the offender and the court may require the driver to pay restitution for your property damage, but this does not cover your total losses.
Instead, you need a civil proceeding. Civil proceedings allow the victims to file a claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver for their injuries. If death occurs, loved ones may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
Civil suits are typically the only way to recover compensation in a drunk driving accident case.
The Importance of Hiring a DUI Accident Attorney
You want an attorney that has experience handling car accidents and drunk driving accidents cases. These attorneys have experience representing victims or surviving family members, and they ensure that the drunk driver is prosecuted. Even if the driver is not convicted or does not serve time in jail, your attorney can still seek compensation for your injuries and financial losses.
DUI accident cases are complicated because often two cases are going on at the same time: the criminal and the civil.
Filing a Suit against the Insurance Company
If you have medical costs or property damage resulting from the drunk driving accident, your attorney may file a lawsuit against the driver or their insurance company – which is done in civil court.
Any other responsible parties may be named as well and claims filed against their insurance companies. For example, someone who hosts a party and allows a guest of that party to leave while apparently intoxicated could be sued.
Filing a Lawsuit against the Driver Directly
When the driver does not have insurance coverage, you may file a lawsuit against the driver. Also, if the insurance coverage is inadequate and does not cover your injuries fully, you may file a suit against the at-fault driver, personally.
The catch here is that the driver’s assets limit you regarding compensation. If a driver does not have auto insurance, it is unlikely they have assets that would cover your losses. On the other hand, if the driver has insurance but too little coverage, they may have assets your attorney can request be liquidated to pay for your losses.
Using Your Uninsured Motorist Coverage
Your insurance company might have offered uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. If you have this coverage, you may be able to file a claim with your insurance company for any amounts not covered by the at-fault driver or if the driver has no insurance.
While it is your insurance company, the situation can become stressful. Insurance companies are in the business of making money; therefore, they will not offer you the compensation you deserve. Even if they are your insurer, you need an advocate who will fight back, negotiate on your behalf, and not settle until the compensation is fair.
Crime Victim’s Compensation Might be Available to You
The State of Washington does have funds set aside for victims of violent crimes. If you do not have uninsured motorist coverage or the other driver has inadequate coverage, these funds may help cover your injuries and pay for some expenses. The Washington State Crime Victim Compensation Program has limitations, and the funding process is complicated. If you do end up receiving compensation later from a civil proceeding, the state may require that you pay back the funds to the program.
Explore Your Options
If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a drunken-driving accident, you could hold that driver accountable for their actions.
Meet with an attorney from Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC, today. We represent victims of DUI accidents on a contingency basis, and our consultations are free. Please contact us today to get started at 206-488-1462 or request more information online.