Despite laws that make it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, drunk driving is still a pervasive problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drunk driving accounts for about 31% of all traffic related deaths in the U.S. Unfortunately incidents involving impaired drivers often involve other vehicles and other non-impaired drivers who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. What can a person do if they fall victim to the poor decisions of an impaired driver?
Violations of the law in negligence actions
Because driving while under the influence of alcohol is against the law, many people would assume that an impaired driver was at fault in a resulting accident, and thus that any case against an impaired driver would be a “slam dunk.” Unfortunately the reality is that things are not always so clear.
Generally, a victim of an impaired driving accident may sue an impaired driver for negligence. In order to show negligence, the person bringing the lawsuit, or the plaintiff, argues that the person who they allege was at fault, the defendant, violated a duty of care, which resulted in an injury, and the defendant should have to pay for that injury. Illinois courts have decided a number of cases that establish that a defendant’s violation of a law that was passed for the protection of human life is strong evidence that there was the breach of a duty owed to others. For example, a driver has a duty not to endanger the safety of other motorists by driving while impaired, and proof that a driver violated a law against drunk driving would be strong evidence that the driver violated that duty. Plaintiffs in other types of negligence lawsuits would have to prove that the defendant breached a duty in some other way, but the clear violation of a law makes it easier for the plaintiff to make his or her case. Even with evidence that the defendant violated a law and breached a duty of care to the plaintiff, the plaintiff will still need to show that the defendant caused his or her injuries in order to recover damages.
Illinois has a doctrine of “modified comparative fault,” which means that courts consider whether or not the plaintiff’s actions contributed to his or her injuries. In Illinois, the plaintiff cannot recover any money from the defendant if the plaintiff is found to be 51% or more at fault for his or her injuries. Thus, a plaintiff cannot recover damages if he or she is found to be more at fault for an accident (if, for example, the plaintiff was speeding, driving recklessly, or taking other actions that contributed to the accident) than the drunk driver.
Dram Shop Laws
Illinois also has what is known as a “Dram Shop” law, which allows a plaintiff to sue an establishment that served alcohol to an intoxicated person that later caused the plaintiff injury. In drunk driving accidents, plaintiffs may be able sue an establishment that served the impaired driver in addition to suing the driver himself.
Depending on the circumstances of each individual case, there are a number of other claims that may be made after a drunk driving accident. If you or your loved one has been involved in a drunk driving accident, trying to understand your rights and options under the law can be overwhelming. Contact our experienced attorneys at the SAM LAW OFFICE, LLC, in Rolling Meadows, for a free initial consultation.