North Carolina Drunk Driving Lawsuits

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A drawing mannequin seated at a table, with cuffs around it resting on a bottle of alcohol, and with a shot glass beside it.Laws against drunk driving in the United States date all the way back to 1910, when drinking and driving were outlawed in New York State. Other states quickly followed suit, and the laws became more specific and, over time, included criminal and financial repercussions.

Starting in the 1970s, the laws became increasingly strict as more people began owning vehicles.

The legal limit on blood alcohol content was lowered twice from 0.15 to 0.10, then finally to the current 0.08, and the minimum age for legally drinking alcohol was raised to twenty-one years of age from eighteen.

Minors who are discovered to have any alcohol in their system are automatically charged with driving under the influence citation or DUI.

Even with drunk driving being illegal longer than anyone alive has been driving, people are still choosing to blatantly disregard the safety of every other driver and pedestrian on the road and attempt to operate their vehicles while intoxicated.

Establishing a lawsuit against a drunk driver is more complex than it may seem. The victim cannot have played any part in causing the accident due to North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence Rule.

Once all responsibility is ensured to be off of the victim, all avenues for any additional defendants must be explored.

For example, was the drunk driver served too much at a bar? Should they have been cut off?

Who allowed them to leave the premises while intoxicated? Did someone allow the intoxicated person to drive?

There may be multiple defendants involved. Personal injury lawyers trained to handle drunk driving accidents investigate all possible avenues for compensation for you.

If you have been made a victim of a drunk driver’s reckless disregard for public safety, call (800) LAW-0804 to speak with the drunk driving accident lawyers at Tatum & Atkinson.

During your free consultation, we will discuss your accident and see if you qualify for a claim for compensation or even a lawsuit. We can even go over punitive damages with you.

Punitive Damages North Carolina

If you were in a motor vehicle collision involving a drunk driver, and you believe that driver made a willful decision to harm others, you may be able to receive additional compensation in the form of punitive damages for your experience and injuries.

Awards for punitive damages are rare. You must prove that the defendant has a pattern of reckless behavior that endangers other people.

A first offense is not enough to establish that the driver disregards the safety and rights of others, especially if their blood alcohol content was close to the legal limit when they were administered the test.

You will also need to show that the driver is not going to be adequately punished by the criminal court system.

Punitive damage claims are reserved for cases where the defendant driver has a history of drunk driving, excessive speeding, racing, road rage, or other reckless acts while operating a motor vehicle.

A personal injury lawyer specializing in drunk driving accidents will help you determine the driver’s relevant criminal history and driving record. They will also go over the police report for your accident as well as the disposition of all charges from the criminal court.

Your injury attorney will also review the defendant’s criminal and driving records again when your case goes to court to see if there have been any repeat offenses since your accident.

Drunk drivers are often repeat offenders, and establishing the pattern will strengthen your case for punitive damages.

Punitive damages are meant to punish the offender to prevent future offenses as well as to dissuade others from committing the crime. The punitive damages a victim can seek in North Carolina are governed by statute N. C. G. S. G-35.

This statute instructs the jury or judge to consider the purpose of the damages and what evidence may be presented. The following describes what evidence may be considered:

  • The reprehensibility of the defendant’s motives and conduct.
  • The likelihood, at the relevant time, of the defendant’s conduct causing serious harm.
  • The degree of the defendant’s awareness of the probable consequences of his conduct.
  • The duration of the defendant’s wrongful conduct.
  • The actual damages suffered by the claimant/victim.
  • Any concealment by the defendant of the facts or the consequences of his/her conduct.
  • The existence and frequency of any similar past conduct by the defendant.
  • Whether the defendant profited from the wrongful conduct.
  • The defendant’s ability to pay punitive damages as evidenced by his/her income, revenues, or net worth.

The defendant’s assets are allowed to be presented in court as evidence in a trial for punitive damages as opposed to a personal injury case, which is based on determining negligence, where it is not admissible.

The defendant’s insurance policies should also be allowed in court because if the insurance company pays for the defendant’s punitive damages, they aren’t really being punished.

The court should therefore know how much the insurance policy will pay before the defendant actually becomes responsible for making a payment.

According to statute N. C. G. S. 1D-25, there is a limit to how much the jury can award for punitive damages. $250,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater.

The amount awarded to the victim cannot exceed the limitation set in place by this statute, even if the jury decides to grant a higher sum. The judge is responsible for ensuring the maximum amount is not exceeded.

However, this statute of limitations does not apply to cases involving drunk drivers. North Carolina has no ceiling for how much a jury can award to the victim or how much the victim can collect.

According to federal bankruptcy law, the drunk driver responsible for causing the accident and serious injuries also cannot file for bankruptcy to avoid the court’s judgment of a large verdict. Drunk drivers are truly punished with punitive damages in North Carolina.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

North Carolina has a unique rule that prevents anyone at fault from receiving financial compensation. Even if you are found to be only one percent responsible for the accident, the court and insurance companies will deny claims for damages.

For example, the insurance company may try to put part of the blame for the collision on you by saying you cut in front of their client or stopped suddenly without cause. This rule is why it is important to have a drunk driving accident lawyer to gather evidence and strengthen your case.

Contact a Drunk Driving Accident Attorney Who Knows How to File Punitive Damages

At Tatum & Atkinson, we know how frustrating it is to deal with drunk drivers. They made the decision to drive while intoxicated, and now you are suffering the consequences.

Let us help you get the compensation you deserve. Call us at (800) LAW-0804 for a free consultation.

We will discuss your accident and begin exploring your options if you have a case.