Being involved in any accident can be a terrifying and hectic experience, both in the moment the vehicles collide as well as through the hectic aftermath of sorting out the damages. Whether you were the sober party involved in the accident or had a bit too much to drink before getting behind the wheel, there are some rights and nuances about the insurance and the criminal process you should know.
I Was Hit By a Drunk Driver
From the perspective of the criminal justice system, if the person who hit you is proved to have been drunk during the accident, they will likely be charged with driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence. The insurance side of things is a completely different story, however.
When it comes to your property damage and any medical bills resulting from the accident, you can file a claim either through your own insurance policy (if you have first party coverage like collision coverage) or file through the other driver’s insurance. It is almost always better to file through your own insurance, as you’ll be compensated for damages and only be responsible for your deductible. Once the claim has been settled with the other carrier, the portion of your deductible that the other party is liable for will then be refunded to you. This means you can work on repairing your vehicle, or in the case of a total loss, you can focus on replacing the vehicle as soon as possible.
The main issue that tends to come up in drunk driving claims (or claims in general) is that people generally assume that the drunk driver is 100% liable or at least at fault for the accident. This, while true in a majority of cases, isn’t always the case. Liability is dependent entirely on vehicle and traffic law. So if the drunk driver did not do something to directly cause the accident, they might not be found liable. For example, in a rear end accident, if the drunk driver was the one who was rear ended, the fact they were drunk is largely irrelevant. If they blow a red light and strike you in an intersection, however, their altered mental state plays a much larger role in the liability portion of the claim.
If you are in an accident with a drunk driver, it is recommended you retain a liability or DUI attorney the help with your case. They will be able to work with your insurance company to strengthen your case and argue liability. And in the case of an unfavorable insurance outcome, the case can be taken to small claims court to be argued there as well if the need arises. Insurance companies fight DUI claims as aggressively as any other claims, and in areas where liability can be shared, they will try to find at least some shared liability – be it for improper lookout or lack of evasive action.
What If I Hit Someone While Drunk?
In this case, it is more important than ever to retain a DUI attorney immediately. Unlike the other party who has to deal with the damages and possibly medical aspects, you also have to worry about the criminal charges being filed and the extra complications that go along with them. You do have rights when in an accident while drunk, and it is important to know these rights.
The first and most important of these rights is the right to remain silent – also known as a person’s Miranda rights. These rights only apply once a person is in police custody, usually in the back of a police car or in handcuffs. The issue with Miranda rights and DUI cases is that most of the information police gather is prior to a person being in police custody, so the Miranda rights would not apply. When dealing with police after an accident, if you were drunk, it is best to cooperate but at the same time don’t self incriminate yourself. You have the right to remain silent, so take advantage of that. Exercising that right is not an admission of guilt, despite what many may believe.
You also have the right to refuse chemical testing in some areas as well as the right to obtain and provide your own chemical testing. You are not allowed to refuse the on site breathalyzer test, though, so keep that in mind. Since chemical tests usually happen after you are in police custody, it is often required that you are read your chemical testing rights prior to having these tests done.
It is also important to note that, under search and seizure laws, police are not allowed to search a vehicle unless they have either the consent of the driver or probable cause. The accident itself along with any indications of drug or substance abuse is usually enough to warrant enough information to satisfy probable cause though, and this issue comes up more with routine stops rather than accidents.
Regardless of who is at fault for the accident, it is important to take steps in defending yourself in any accident – not just those involving drunk drivers. Contact your insurance as soon as you can, have a police report filed, and hire an attorney if you feel it might be necessary. Your insurance company will also usually be more than willing to help answer any questions you might have regarding your claim. Oftentimes, they have their own legal team to assist in the event someone tries to come after you personally for their damages. If you receive any kind of summons notifications or attorney letters from any of the other parties involved, contact your insurance company and forward the documents to them immediately. These papers are usually time sensitive, and failing to respond could be ruled as an admission of liability by default if you fail to have representation at the summons hearing.
Please note that the content in this article is purely for informative purposes and is not legal advice. For any questions or concerns you have about your own personal circumstances, please contact a liability attorney, DUI attorney, or criminal attorney in order to better assess your circumstances and help prepare your case.