Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for those ages 44 and under. Approximately one-third of these deaths are related to drinking and driving. nearly 11,000 people died in drunk driving accidents in 2016 and 2017. In New York State, over 20 percent of all highway deaths involve alcohol use. Many more drunk driving accidents result in catastrophic injuries. But these facts are more than just numbers. They represent families devastated by the loss of a loved one or lives forever altered by disabling injuries.
DUI Law in New York
People who drive while intoxicated put not only their own lives at risk but also the lives of others. Alcohol use leads to erratic and dangerous driving, such as driving on the wrong side of the road, falling asleep at the wheel, speeding, or running through traffic signs and signals. More often than not, innocent victims suffer catastrophic harm as a result of these dangerous behaviors.
As in all states, drunk driving is illegal in New York. In New York, there are multiple categories of drunk driving offenses:
- Driving while ability impaired by alcohol (DWAI). A driver is impaired, but the blood-alcohol level is below 0.08.
- Driving under the influence (DUI) is also called driving while intoxicated, or DWI, in New York. In this category, the driver has a blood-alcohol level equal to or greater than 0.08 percent but less than 0.18 percent.
- Aggravated DUI means a driver has a blood-alcohol level at or above 0.18 percent.
- New York also has zero-tolerance laws. These laws apply if a driver under 21 is found to be driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.02 percent to 0.07 percent.
A conviction for drunk driving carries severe penalties, including imprisonment, large fines, and suspension of driving privileges.
The Role of Civil Legal Actions
However, while the criminal justice system achieves justice by punishing drunk drivers, that justice does not necessarily help accident victims recover from devastating injuries and tragic deaths the drunk driver caused.
To recover compensation for those harms, an injured victim may have the right to file a civil lawsuit against the drunk driver or anyone else legally responsible for the driver’s conduct. In the case of a fatality, the victim’s family may have the ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Generally speaking, a lawsuit against a person with civil legal liability for damages is known as a personal injury action. In most (but not necessarily all) cases, the lawsuit alleges the wrongdoer acted with negligence, which is commonly defined as a “failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”
Driving under the influence of alcohol nearly always represents an act of negligence that makes the driver legally liable for the harm he causes behind the wheel.
Who Is at Fault?
Determining fault for a drunk driving accident is not always clear-cut as it may first appear. Yes, the drunk driver nearly always has some degree of fault for causing an accident. But others may also contribute to it. For example:
- New York bar and restaurant owners who serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated or actually or apparently intoxicated person may face legal liability under New York’s Dram Shop statutes.
- Any person who provides or assists someone under age 21 with alcohol may be liable under New York’s social host liability law.
- New York employers have been held liable when an employee on duty has caused injuries while driving under the influence.
In some drunk driving cases, the victim may also bear part of the blame for an accident. That sounds counterintuitive, but the fact is, sometimes a drunk driving accident is not solely the fault of the drunk driver. New York is a so-called pure comparative fault state, which means that unless you are the only person to blame for your injuries, you can still seek compensation from others who caused you damages through a civil legal action.
New York’s Serious Injury Threshold Requirement
Victims of drunk driving accidents can suffer from all types of personal injuries, ranging from mild to catastrophic. However, not every injury can result in a lawsuit under New York law. Instead, a legal action for personal injury damages arising from the operation of a motor vehicle must satisfy the so-called serious injury threshold.
The New York State Insurance Law limits motor vehicle accident lawsuits to those alleging at least $50,000 in damages, or one or more serious injuries. that a plaintiff in a personal injury action arising out of a motor vehicle accident must meet. These include dismemberment, significant disfigurement, the permanent loss or serious impairment of a body organ, member, function or system, fracture, loss of a fetus, death, and certain less-serious injuries if they result in an inability to perform daily routines for at least 90 days following an accident.
Potential Damages in Drunk Driving Accidents
There is no fixed amount of damages you are guaranteed to recover in a lawsuit arising out of a drunk driving accident. In fact, there is no guarantee you will recover any money at all. Each case is unique and the potential damages recoverable depend upon the specific facts of your injuries and losses. As a general matter, however, the categories of damages you may have the right to recover in a drunk driving accident lawsuit include:
- Current and future medical expenses
- Lost income during your recovery
- Reduced ability to earn money in the future
- Replacing or repairing your damaged vehicle
- Diminished quality of life
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Disfigurement or scarring
Call a Drunk Driving Injury Attorney if You Still Have Questions
If a drunk driver injures you or someone you love, you may be entitled to compensation. There are strict deadlines, called statutes of limitations, for filing personal injury lawsuits. Consult an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to learn about your legal rights.