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DUI Accident Victim FAQs

Q. Can I File A Car Accident Lawsuit In Pennsylvania?

That probably depends on what type of auto insurance you have. In Pennsylvania, drivers have two choices for insurance: “limited tort” and “full tort.” Purchase limited tort insurance and you may be signing away your right to file an accident lawsuit. But at least you’ll be guaranteed some compensation from your own insurance company.

That’s the bargain of limited tort: your insurance company agrees to cover your injuries if you agree not to sue. Even with limited tort, however, you may still have the option of filing a lawsuit. Pennsylvania allows victims who have suffered “serious injuries” to file personal injury lawsuits – even if they own limited tort insurance.

If you have “full tort” insurance, you’ll be able to file suit, no matter how serious your injuries are. That doesn’t mean you’ll win, though. First, you’ll have to prove a few things.

Q. What Do I Need To Prove?

As in any personal injury lawsuit, the main question in most car accident lawsuits is who was responsible for the crash? This usually comes down to the concept of “negligence”: which driver’s carelessness caused the accident?

In practice, winning a car accident lawsuit comes down to proving 4 things:

  1. State law required the other driver to be careful, at least as careful as we would expect any other rational person to be. Sometimes called a “duty of care,” this 1st condition is presumed in car accident cases, since state law requires drivers to be reasonably careful on the road.
  2. The other driver failed to uphold their duty. As you might expect, proving this fact is crucial. To do so, the court will ask: what would a reasonable person have done in this situation? Would they have acted differently? If you can prove that the other driver violated their duty of care, you may have a real case on your hands.
  3. The other driver’s negligence caused your injuries. This isn’t always easy to demonstrate, especially where specific injuries like whiplash are concerned.
  4. You suffered losses because of your injuries. Finally, you’ll need to prove that you suffered damages because of the accident. Damages can come in the form of medical expenses, lost wages, damage to your car and even “immaterial” losses like the experience of physical pain or emotional trauma.

Q. Does Driving Drunk Make Someone Automatically Liable For Injuries?

No, but it could change the legal situation for survivors and their loved ones – usually in a good way.

Driving while intoxicated is a violation of Pennsylvania law, and more often than not, a DUI conviction can be used to prove that a driver was acting negligently at the time of a crash. In other words, a conviction for drunk driving could satisfy that 2nd condition we discussed above, leaving only numbers 1, 3 and 4 for a victim to prove. Even drivers who aren’t convicted can be presumed negligent, if police reports attest to the fact that their blood alcohol content was 0.08% or higher, the legal limit in Pennsylvania.

If the court presumes a driver’s negligence, the burden of proof will shift from Plaintiff to Defendant. In other words, the drunk driver will have to prove that they were not acting negligently, often a tall order.

Q. Does DUI Only Cover Alcohol?

No. Pennsylvania’s laws recognize that numerous drugs can impair a person’s ability to drive and put others at risk. Police officers and criminal prosecutors use various methods to gather evidence that a driver was operating their vehicle under the influence of drugs, including blood and urine tests. In any event, being convicted of DUI is often enough for a court to presume negligence, no matter what substance was involved.

Q. Will Insurance Companies Be Involved?

Absolutely. File a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver and their insurance company will step in to hire an attorney.

Most insurers, though, don’t want to foot the bill for cases that involve drunk driving, since negligence will be presumed by the court. That means the insurance company will be highly motivated to settle out of court, before a trial even begins. Their willingness to settle ends, however, whenever the driver’s insurance policy does.

In many cases, an insurance company will offer the entire policy limit. It’s up to you, with the guidance of an experienced car accident lawyer, to decide whether that amount will be enough.

Q. Am I Only Allowed To Sue The Driver?

No, you may also be able to file a lawsuit against the bar, restaurant or beer distributor who “furnished” the drunk driver with alcohol. Pennsylvania’s “Dram Shop Act” says any licensed establishment can be held accountable for serving alcohol to a visibly-intoxicated patron. If a bar serves alcohol to someone who is visibly-intoxicated at the time, and that person goes on to hurt someone else, the victim can sue the bar in civil court. That may also be true for social hosts, too, but only in relation to crashes involving minors.

Follow the link to learn more about Pennsylvania’s dram shop laws.

Q. Can Injured Passengers File Their Own Lawsuit?

Yes. Anyone injured in a car accident has the right to file suit under Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Law. That includes passengers, pedestrians and even drunk drivers themselves.

As long as you can demonstrate that a licensed establishment illegally served alcohol to a visibly-intoxicated patron, you have a case. Passengers can also file lawsuits against intoxicated drivers, even if they were riding in the same car as the drunk driver.

In one of our successful cases, the attorneys filed suit against two bars on behalf of a passenger who suffered a spinal injury in a car accident. Our client’s husband, intoxicated at the time, was driving the car during their crash. He pled guilty to DUI and was sentenced to jail time. The establishments that served him ultimately settled the case for $4.3 million, allowing our client to focus on her recovery.

Q. What If I Was At Fault, Too?

You may still have a case. Pennsylvania follows a “comparative negligence” rule that allows drivers who believe they were partially responsible for an accident to file suit anyway.

Q. What Is A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In the tragic event that a loved one is killed in a car accident, someone else may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit. Usually that “someone else” is the executor of the deceased’s estate, and they’ll file the lawsuit on behalf of people, like immediate relatives, who have suffered financial damages due to their loved one’s death.

Q. How Long Do I Have To File A Lawsuit?

Pennsylvania gives survivors of a car accident 2 years, beginning on the date of the accident, to file a lawsuit, either against the other driver or the licensed establishment that served them alcohol. Wrongful death lawsuits are also governed by this 2 year time limit. There’s a possibility that this deadline (or “statute of limitations”) could be extended, in the event that you were unable to discover the true nature of your injuries until later. This “discovery rule” often comes into effect for whiplash-type injuries, the effects of which may take months to become apparent.

Q. Should I Hire A Lawyer?

It’s probably in your best interests. While hiring an attorney may sound like more trouble than it’s worth, people who have suffered serious injuries owe themselves a true chance at compensation. Pennsylvania’s liquor laws are complex, as are the state’s driving regulations. Walk into court unprepared and you’re likely to walk out without any recovery.

Q. Don’t Attorneys Cost A Lot Of Money?

Some do, but our personal injury lawyers work on a “contingency-fee basis.” That means you don’t pay us a thing until we secure compensation in your case. You have nothing to lose from learning more about your legal options. Just contact our attorneys for a free consultation.

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David Petrone
Date Published: July 27, 2022
David Petrone is a personal injury attorney at Justice Guardians.
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