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Evaluation of North Carolina Drunk Driving Personal Injury Claims

We all know that drunk drivers are among the most dangerous drivers on North Carolina’s roads. Because of their delayed reactions and impaired physical and mental faculties, drunk drivers have a greater tendency to cause high speed collisions and head-on impacts that result in serious injury or death. The Raleigh attorneys of Maginnis Law have regrettably had to represent too many families who have lost loved ones to motorists who drove after consuming alcohol. Through that representation, though, our attorneys have gained a unique understanding of how to handle North Carolina personal injury and wrongful death claims involving drunk drivers. This blog provides some information that you might find helpful if you or a loved one has been seriously injured or if you are considering pursuing a wrongful death claim for the loss of a family member. If you have any questions concerning this blog or how to evaluate a claim against an intoxicated driver, contact Maginnis Law’s lead Raleigh personal injury attorney, T. Shawn Howard, by calling 919.480.8526 or emailing him.

Identifying Liable Parties

The first thing to realize if you or a loved one has been hurt by a drunk driver is that the driver him or herself is often not the only liable person. Recovering insurance policy limits from the drunk driver is often the “low hanging fruit” for lawyers. If you are catastrophically injured by a drunk driver who has a minimum limits policy, most any attorney can assist you with recovering those policy limits. The critical question is often whether the attorney can assist you in litigating a claim against other people who may have negligently contributed to the collision. Recovering from these defendants can be more challenging but, in many cases, the available insurance limits are significantly higher which can help with making sure the victim is fully compensated for their harms. For instance, in 2018, Maginnis Law was part of a claim where nearly $9,000,000 in total was recovered for four victims of a drunk driver. Our client alone recovered $3,000,000 from various defendants, including those who overserved the drunk driver. The actual driver himself contributed very little to that total sum.

As an example of the other claims which may exist, it is a violation of North Carolina law for anyone to serve alcohol to someone under the age of 21. If a person or business does serve an individual under the age of 21, and that underage drinker then causes a collision, the furnisher of the alcohol is responsible for up to $500,000 of damages for each instance of this occurring.

Far more commonly, the drunk driver is over the age of 21 but was negligently furnished alcohol beyond the point of intoxication. If a bar, restaurant, hotel, or other retail establishment serves alcohol to someone they know or should know is already drunk, and they know that person is reasonably likely to operate a motor vehicle, then the establishment can be held liable for all damages which result (there is no cap for this type of claim). These types of “dram shop” claims are usually covered by a Commercial General Liability policy. Similarly, a social host such as someone who holds a party at his or her house can also be held responsible if they allow someone to get drunk and then drive from their home. Insurance coverage for such claims is often provided by homeowners policies and umbrella policies.

Recovery of Compensatory Damages

The damages available after a North Carolina driving while intoxicated wreck vary depending upon whether the victim survived or not. If the victim did survive, then there are a number of available “elements of damages,” including compensation for: (1) past and future medical expenses, (2) past and future lost earnings, (3) physical pain and mental suffering, (4) permanent injury, (5) permanent scarring and disfigurement, and (6) loss of use of part of the body.

If the drunk driving victim dies, the administrator of the estate can pursue the damages set forth in North Carolina’s wrongful death statute, including: (1) expenses for care, treatment and hospitalization caused by the incident prior to death, (2) compensation for any physical and mental pain and suffering before death, (3) funeral expenses, (4) net income of the decedent, and (5) compensation for the services, protection, care and assistance, society, companionship, comfort, guidance, kindly offices and advice of the decedent to his or her beneficiaries.

Punitive Damages

Because drunk driving is considered willful and wanton negligence under North Carolina law, there is always a possibility for recover of punitive damages. These are damages that are not designed specifically to compensate the victim but, instead, to punish the defendant and send a message to him/her as well as to the community. While punitive damages in North Carolina are limited to the greater of $250,000 or three (3) times compensatory damages, this is not true in cases involving drunk driving. There is no cap whatsoever. Generally speaking, what drives the recovery of punitive damages are the facts that surround the drunk driving. For instance, is this the only offense by this defendant or do they have a history of drunk driving? Have they driven drunk again since causing injury? Did they try to hide their alcohol or lie to law enforcement? Did they have children in their vehicle? There are any number of facts that can help drive the recovery of punitive damages, and it is very much a case by case inquiry. That being said, a good investigation into the punitive damages element of a drunk driving case can help result in a policy limits tender even when the injuries are not severe.

Free Consults and Contingency Fee Arrangement

The North Carolina lawyers of Maginnis Law have recovered millions of dollars for North Carolinians who have been seriously injured by an irresponsible drunk driver. We offer free consults to the victims and their families. If we are able to assist, we will do so on a contingency fee basis so that you owe no attorneys’ fee unless and until we make a recovery for you. Our firm handles cases involving injuries caused by drunk drivers from the mountains to the coast, including cases in Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Wilmington, Fayetteville, New Bern, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Asheville, and Greensboro. To schedule a free consult, visit our contact page or email T. Shawn Howard, our lead personal injury attorney.