Am I At Fault In A Car Accident If The Other Driver Was Drunk?

Written by Steven Matz on . Posted in , .

Regardless of the time of day or night you are on the road, there is always a chance that a drunk driver might be on the road with you. While drunk driving is more likely at night, there is also a risk in the daylight hours. In fact, according to the NHTSA, a drunk driver causes one fatal accident roughly every forty-five minutes.

Though, is the drunk driver automatically at fault? Does it matter? In many circumstances, fault is important to determine legal liability in Michigan. Continue reading to understand more about Michigan auto laws and learn how to contact Matz Injury Law for help with your auto accident case.

If a Drunk Driver Hits My Car, Are They at Fault?

A driver must be considered “negligent” to have legal liability for a car accident. Negligence is a legal term that essentially means that a driver was careless or did not use the care necessary to act safely under the specific circumstances of the accident.

Under Michigan law, driving while intoxicated is negligent. That is, if the drunk driver causes the accident, they are likely to be considered negligent virtually automatically under Michigan law. If they are careless, they will likely face legal liability for the accident.

Simply getting behind the wheel while intoxicated is negligent. However, a drunk driver could be negligent for other reasons as well. They might not have maintained control of their vehicle, were speeding, or engaged in reckless driving. In many situations, a drunk driver will not only be charged with an OWI, but they might also be in violation of several other state laws.

You should call the police after every Michigan car accident. However, it is especially important to get the police involved if your accident involved a suspected drunk driver.

Man being pulled over at night by the police for drunk driving

No-Fault Benefits After a Drunk Driving Accident in Michigan

Even though a driver might be at fault for an accident because they were drunk, that fault will not matter in every situation. Michigan is a no-fault state. Every driver is required to have PIP insurance (personal injury protection). This insurance provides benefits for drivers and passengers after they have been involved in an accident. These benefits might include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Personal care services
  • Household services
  • Home modification
  • Medical mileage reimbursement

Michigan law states that the drunk driver will also receive these benefits from their insurance company, even if they caused the accident.

Car accidents that involve drunk drivers can be very serious, however. In those situations, PIP coverage might not be enough to address all of your medical bills or other losses. In cases where the injuries are severe, a car accident victim can often sue the drunk driver for their unreimbursed losses. These losses or damages are often referred to as “excess” benefits. They often address things like pain and suffering and lost wages that are over and above the monthly maximum or total payment limitations in your insurance policy.

Penalties for Drunk Driving in Michigan

Drunk driving can lead to both civil and criminal consequences. The lawsuit that a car accident victim can start is a civil case. However, the State of Michigan will also often bring criminal charges against the drunk driver, which can result in fines and jail time. Driving while drunk will also affect the driver’s license as well.

Defining Drunk Driving

Not everyone who has a drink and drives is considered “drunk” or “intoxicated” under Michigan law. Instead, your blood alcohol content (BAC) must reach above a specific limit to be legally considered drunk.

For the average driver in Michigan, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08 or more. Those under the age of 21 cannot operate a vehicle if their BAC is 0.02 or more. In addition, driving while under the influence of drugs, including some prescription drugs, will also be considered drunk driving or driving while intoxicated.

In most situations, the police will test a driver using field sobriety tests or a breathalyzer test. After the police take a drunk driver into custody, they often perform one or more additional tests to determine BAC as well.

Penalties for Drunk Driving

The penalties for drunk driving can be severe. A drunk driver will usually have to face the following consequences of a drunk driving conviction:

Fines and Fees

If a driver’s BAC is under .17, they will often have to pay a fine of up to $500. If the driver’s BAC was over .17, the fines increase for first offenses to up to $700. There will also likely be fees associated with getting an ignition interlock system that will be necessary to drive while under a limited license. Higher BAC levels will also require completing an alcohol treatment program, which will also likely require a fee.

License Suspension or Revocation

Any driver convicted of an OWI or DUI will also lose their license for a period of time. For higher BAC levels, the time of suspension could be up to one year. Drivers also get six points on their licenses as well.

Jail Time

If a driver’s BAC is .17 or under, they will spend up to 93 days in jail. If the BAC is .17 or over, they might spend up to 180 days in jail.

Community Service

Drivers under the influence of alcohol might also be required to perform community service. Up to 360 hours of community service may be ordered regardless of a driver’s BAC level.

Anyone who refuses a breath test requested by a police officer will also lose their license for one year.

Common Injuries Sustained from Drunk Driving Accidents

Drunk driving accidents are often severe because impaired drivers typically drive recklessly, which can mean that the accident occurs at a higher speed. Examples of serious injuries that might result from a drunk driving accident include the following non-exhaustive list.

Broken Bones

Although broken bones may not seem severe, they definitely can be. In some cases, breaking a bone in just the right place can result in pain and limited movement for years to come. Broken bones might also lead to severe disfigurement and pain in the future.

Traumatic Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can lead to changes in mood, the ability to move, and can even lead to death. Get medical help immediately if you suspect someone involved in the drunk driving accident has a concussion or another TBI.

Spinal Cord Injuries

A spinal cord injury can affect your ability to move, feel sensations throughout your body, and a lot more. The spinal cord affects functionality throughout your body. You may be surprised to learn just how severe a spinal cord injury can be.

Death

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 32 people are killed because of drunk drivers every day. Death because of a drunk driving accident is a very real risk. Losing a loved one or family member to a drunk driver will affect families for years to come. Family members can often assert a wrongful death claim with the help of a car accident attorney after a Michigan drunk driving accident.

Criminal Case vs. a Civil Lawsuit for Drunk Driving

Driving under the influence might lead to both criminal and civil cases because of a drunk driving accident. In the criminal case, the city (like Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, or Detroit) or state will request criminal sanctions for the driver’s actions. These sanctions may include fines, revocation of driving privileges, and jail time.

In a civil case, the party that the drunk driver injured will be involved. Instead of asking for fines or jail time, the drunk driving accident victim will request monetary damages to compensate them for the losses they experienced. These losses might include medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

A criminal case might put an intoxicated driver in jail, but it generally will not fully compensate a car accident victim. Instead, the victim will usually have to assert a civil case.

The Benefits of Hiring an Attorney After a Crash

Matz Injury Law will explain your legal rights after a car accident with a drunk driver. Our Southfield law firm will work with you to determine the full extent of your losses because of the accident and help you assert your claim. In most situations, the claim will start with your own insurance company. However, once those benefits are exhausted, most motor vehicle accident victims should get legal advice after a Michigan drunk driving accident from a personal injury lawyer.

Talk to a drunk driving accident lawyer before you sign any settlement or make any agreements with an insurance company. Having an experienced lawyer look through the settlement and evaluate your case will help you ensure that you are receiving everything to which you are entitled.

Impaired Drivers Cause Irreparable Damage. Drive Alert.

Get help from the legal team at Matz Injury Law. Our law office will help you move on with your life after a crash involving a drunk driver. Call today at 1-866-22Not33 or contact us online and for more information or to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.

Written By Steven Matz

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury. Mr. Matz earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with high distinction and highest honors in 1974 from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor degree in 1977 from The George Washington University National Law Center. Mr. Matz lectures and publishes in a number of areas, including ethics, marketing, trial tactics, and head injury. Mr. Matz has served on the Michigan Association for Justice Executive Board and currently serves the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board as a Hearing Panel Chairman and Master. He is also a member of the State Bar Committee for Character and Fitness.
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