Your world changes in an instant when you’re hit by a drunk driver. You may be wondering what to do next as you pick up the pieces and try to heal from your injuries.
Every 50 minutes, someone in the United States is killed in a car accident caused by someone impaired by alcohol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Serious injuries are also commonplace in accidents caused by drunk drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported nearly 300,000 people were injured in drunk driving accidents in 2020 alone.
A car accident lawyer in Morgantown can help you pursue a claim against the drunk driver for their careless and dangerous behavior. You need an attorney who understands the nuances of insurance policy limitations for drunk driving accidents, as well as the West Virginia laws for suing the impaired driver.
The steps you need to take after a drunk driving accident are slightly different from the average collision because the drunk driver may be dangerous or belligerent. If possible, you should take the following steps before leaving the scene:
1. Call the Police Immediately After the Crash
When the dust settles, report the crash to the police and be sure to tell the dispatcher that the other driver appears to be intoxicated. You may not be certain that the other driver is drunk, but tell the police if you suspect alcohol is involved. Generally, you should wait to talk to the driver until the police are on the scene.
You should also request an ambulance if anyone is injured. Paramedics can assess injuries, provide treatment, and transport you and any other victims to the hospital as necessary.
2. Assess the Dangers Around Both Vehicles
If the drunk driving accident happened on a busy highway or street, there’s a possibility of a secondary car crash. Don’t stand between the two cars and get away from any severely damaged vehicle that may start a fire or collapse.
It’s best to move vehicles out of the flow of traffic if possible or turn on your hazard lights and raise the hood to let passing cars know there’s an auto accident. Turn off the ignition to stop a fire from breaking out.
You should also make note of the other driver’s vehicle. Is it a company car with an insignia? If so, they may be drunk on the job.
3. Evaluate Your Injuries and the Injuries Sustained by Other Victims
Once you’ve ensured that you and your passengers are safe and the police are on their way, evaluate the damage. Anyone who isn’t severely injured needs to exit the vehicle for more accessible medical treatment.
Do not move anyone with serious injuries, especially to the head, neck, back, and spine, unless there are life-threatening circumstances such as a vehicle fire. Don’t unbuckle anyone who stays in the vehicle in case of a secondary crash. Seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
4. Take Photographs and Document Everything
As soon as you are able, start taking photos of the entire scene. No detail is too small, from the vehicle damage to your injuries to weather and lighting conditions. These pictures will establish the accident conditions and confirm any signs, obstructions, construction, and traffic control devices.
You should also photograph any damage to the road and any debris from the vehicles involved. In some cases, a drunk driver may have open alcohol containers. These could be plainly visible inside the car, or even spill out into the street due to the force of the crash.
5. Gather Information from the Drunk Driver with Police Present
There are several pieces of information you need from the drunk driver to file your accident claim. However, you do not know how impaired the driver is at this time, and it’s safest to wait until you have a police officer with you to gather these details. It also prevents the drunk driver from attempting to give you false information.
You will need the drunk driver’s:
- Full name
- Complete home address
- Date of birth
- Best phone number
- Name and address of employer (if the driver was operating a company vehicle at the time of the accident)
- Driver’s license number and issuance details
- Vehicle color, make, model, and year
- License plate number and state
- Vehicle identification number
- Auto insurance company name, policy number, and contact details
When you get home, write down everything you can remember and take meticulous notes about your ongoing medical care to document the extent of your injuries and their impact on your quality of life.
Why You Shouldn’t Accept a Settlement Before the Drunk Driver Is Charged with a Crime
One of the biggest mistakes drunk driving victims make is agreeing to the insurance company’s initial settlement offer before understanding the full consequences of their injuries. Some victims may require physical therapy and home modifications. The drunk driver’s insurance company wants to limit the payout, which means pushing a smaller settlement on you to close the case quickly. By accepting that amount, you lose your right to seek further compensation for your injuries – no matter how severe they become in the coming months and years.
You may have leverage for a larger settlement after the drunk driver is convicted or pleads guilty to a DUI. A criminal hearing for a DUI requires a much higher burden of proof than a civil hearing. The drunk driver’s insurance provider is more likely to deal fairly with someone injured by a convicted drunk driver.
West Virginia Drunk Driving Laws
West Virginia has a dram shop law that gives victims of drunk driving an option to sue more than the drunk driver. You can hold other people and entities liable for damages if they served alcohol to someone who was visibly intoxicated. Businesses such as bars and restaurants, as well as homeowners who knowingly served the intoxicated driver alcohol or gave a drink to someone under the legal drinking age can be sued for the accident.
Drunk driving is an inherently careless act. When it leads to accidents, this dangerous behavior can have a devastating impact on victims and their families.
Colombo Law is here to help if you or a loved one was injured by the recklessness of a drunk driver. Our team explores all of your options for pursuing compensation, including bringing claims against the drunk driver, the establishment that served the alcohol, and more.
Please call Colombo Law at (304) 599-4229 today for a free case review. Our drunk driving accident lawyers serve clients in Morgantown and throughout West Virginia.