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Can I Sue a Drunk Driver?

Can I Sue a Drunk Driver? Nobody expects to be injured in a collision with a drunk driver, yet these crashes occur with some frequency. According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, there were a total of 720 OVI-related fatalities in 2021. That number represented an increase from prior years. In 2020, for example, there were 685 intoxicated driving deaths in Ohio. The previous year, there were 597 drunk driving deaths. To be clear, the data suggests that the rate of deadly drunk driving crashes in Ohio is on the rise. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that rates of intoxicated driving and drunk driving crashes are higher in Ohio than the national average. In fact, 2.2% of Ohio residents admit to driving after drinking too much in the last 30 days alone. The national average is only 1.9%.

If you or someone you love got hurt in a collision caused by a drunk driver, you are likely wondering if you can sue the drunk driver. In most cases, you can indeed file a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver. It is important to learn more about civil lawsuits after a motor vehicle collision, and what you will need to do in order to seek compensation.

Am I Allowed to File a Lawsuit Against a Drunk Driver in Ohio?

Your first question after a drunk driving crash may be: can I sue the drunk driver? In most cases, whenever a drunk driver causes an accident and injuries, the injured party can sue the drunk driver. Intoxicated driving is illegal in Ohio, and in addition, it constitutes negligence. Whenever another motorist is negligent and that negligence results in a crash, the injured person may be able to sue.

According to the Ohio Department of Insurance, negligence can be understood as the “failure to exercise the degree of care required of a reasonable and prudent person in any given circumstances resulting in injury or damage to another.” Whenever a driver gets behind the wheel while intoxicated, that driver is not acting as a reasonable and prudent person would. As such, that intoxicated driver is likely negligent and can be held accountable. It is important to be clear that suing a drunk driver will involve a civil lawsuit. Accordingly, you will be seeking monetary damages from the drunk driver for the injuries they caused.

Will My Lawsuit Send the Drunk Driver to Jail?

Civil lawsuits for drunk driving are distinct from criminal cases involving drunk driving. Consider the following information:

As you might know, drunk driving is unlawful in Ohio. Drunk driving falls under the classification of “operating vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.” To be clear, Ohio OVI law does not use the terms “DUI” or “DWI” as some states do to refer to driving under the influence of alcohol or driving while intoxicated. Rather, Ohio law uses the terminology of operating a vehicle under the influence, or “OVI.” According to Ohio OVI law, it is unlawful to operate a vehicle if you are “under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.” When a person violates Ohio’s OVI law, they can be sentenced to up to six months in jail and will face a license suspension and fine. Subsequent offenses carry the possibility of additional jail time, with longer license suspensions and costlier monetary fines.

Yet it is important to understand that suing a drunk driver is not a criminal case. To be sure, criminal charges are filed by a government prosecutor, and law enforcement officials conduct arrests for drunk driving or OVIs. The lawsuit you will file against a drunk driver is a civil lawsuit. As such, the outcome of your case will not have any bearing on whether or not the drunk driver serves jail time. Rather, the outcome of your case will determine whether the drunk driver is required to pay you monetary damages.

Is There a Difference Between a Drunk Driver and a Drugged Driver?

Under Ohio law, it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Accordingly, for purposes of Ohio OVI laws, drunk driving and drugged driving are both unlawful. In addition, a person who is injured in a collision with an intoxicated driver may be able to file a lawsuit either way. To be clear, you may be able to sue a drunk or a drugged driver for causing an accident.

There are some key distinctions to note. First, a breathalyzer test cannot be used to determine whether a person is using an illegal drug. As such, you will likely only rely on breathalyzer results in your civil lawsuit if the person was intoxicated due to alcohol use. Chemical tests can test for both alcohol and drugs, so a chemical test could be used to prove drugged driving.

You should also know that Ohio’s OVI law does not always include drugged driving caused by a prescription medication or an over-the-counter drug. However, even if a person is intoxicated due to a legal medication that is not a “drug of abuse” under Ohio law, that driver may still be negligent and thus responsible for an intoxicated driving accident.

Does it Matter if the Drunk Driver Was Arrested for a DUI or OVI?

You might be wondering if a driver’s arrest will factor into your lawsuit. In other words, does it matter if the drunk driver you are suing was arrested for an OVI? A drunk driving arrest could factor into your claim, but an arrest is not necessary for you to file a lawsuit.

You can sue a drunk driver even if the driver was not arrested for a DUI or OVI in Ohio. Accordingly, you can also sue a drunk driver who was never charged with a DUI or OVI. In addition, even if the driver is arrested and charged, you can still file a lawsuit even if that motorist is not convicted. How could a drunk driving arrest or charges factor into your claim? An OVI arrest or charges or conviction are not necessary for you to sue the drunk driver and to be able to win your case, as we have indicated. However, if a driver is arrested or charged or convicted, you may be able to use that information as evidence to support your lawsuit.

What Evidence Do I Need to Sue a Drunk Driver?

What type of evidence will you need to sue a drunk driver? You should be sure to do everything you can to gathering the following proof of the drunk driver’s intoxication and liability:

  • Name and contact information for anyone who was involved in the collision or who witnessed the crash happen;
  • Witness statements from anyone who saw the driver while they were drinking, or who may have witnessed the driver stumbling before getting into their car or slurring their words before getting behind the wheel (e.g., witnesses who saw evidence of intoxication);
  • Photos from the scene of the crash, which an accident reconstruction expert may be able to use to demonstrate how drunk driving caused the crash;
  • Police reports, including any arrest records or criminal case materials involving DUI/OVI; and/or
  • Breathalyzer test results or any other chemical test results that prove the driver was intoxicated.

When Do I Need to File a Lawsuit Against the Drunk Driver?

According to the Ohio statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits, your drunk driving case will likely have a two-year statute of limitations. In other words, you will need to file your lawsuit within two years from the date of the drunk driving accident. The “clock” on your claim will start ticking on the date of the drunk driving crash. You must file your lawsuit within two years from that date. If you do not file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out, you will have a time-barred claim.

It is best to file your lawsuit as soon as possible so that you do not experience any issues concerning the statute of limitations.

Can I Sue Anyone Else if a Drunk Driver Caused My Injuries?

You will likely be able to sue a drunk driver who caused your injuries. In addition, you could be eligible to file a lawsuit against one or more additional parties. In drunk driving cases, the intoxicated driver is almost always liable for injuries. At the same time, many drunk driving collisions also happen because of the fault of another party. There are various individuals or entities who could be responsible for damages in addition to the drunk driver. Some common examples include:

  • Employer of the drunk driver if the drunk driver was on duty;
  • Restaurant or bar that served alcohol to the drunk driver; or
  • Social host who served alcohol to an underage drunk driver.

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an Ohio employer can be responsible for harm caused by the negligence of an employee who is on duty. In other words, if an employee drinks on the job and causes an accident, you could potentially be able to sue the employer. This can be true even if the employer did not have knowledge of the employee’s alcohol consumption beforehand.

When can a restaurant or bar be liable for a drunk driving accident? Ohio has what is known as a dram shop law. Under the Ohio dram shop law, a party who holds a liquor license can be liable for injuries in a drunk driving crash if they “knowingly sold an intoxicating beverage” to a “noticeably intoxicated person” who later caused an accident that resulted in personal injury, death, or property damage. Some states also hold social hosts similarly responsible. In other words, some states say that a friend or co-worker who served drinks to a drunk person at their home can be liable if that person gets behind the wheel of a car and causes injuries in an accident. In Ohio, social host liability only applies if the social host served alcohol to an underage person who then caused a drunk driving accident.

What Should I Do if the Drunk Driver Says I am Also Negligent?

If you do sue the drunk driver and that driver says you are also negligent, what should you do? You should know that Ohio has a modified comparative negligence law. As such, even if you are partially at fault (50% or less) you will recover damages. If that happens, your damages award will be reduced by your portion of fault. You will only be barred from recovery if the drunk driver can prove you were 51% or more at fault for the collision.

Contact a Hamilton Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Today

You should never have to fear that you will be injured by an intoxicated motorist, yet these collisions do happen. Much too often, drunk drivers cause debilitating and fatal injuries to occupants of other vehicles. These crashes can happen at almost any time of day, although they are more common at night. You can take precautions to avoid a collision with a drunk driver, but you may not be able to avoid an accident altogether. Teen drivers and other inexperienced motorists can be at particular risk of injury in a crash caused by an intoxicated driver. Accidents and injuries caused by drunk or drugged drivers are taken extremely seriously in Ohio. You may be able to file a claim to seek financial compensation.

At the law firm of Kruger & Hodges, we know how devastating drunk driving accidents can be. Our firm also knows how critical it is to seek compensation for your losses and to hold the drunk driver accountable. We can assist you with your insurance claim, and our firm can advocate for your right to compensation in a lawsuit. While insurance claims can be sufficient in some cases, many drunk driving accident victims must file civil lawsuits. Our lawyers can assist you with all aspects of your case. Do not hesitate to get in touch with an experienced Hamilton drunk driving accident lawyer at our firm. Contact the law firm of Kruger & Hodges today. We represent clients throughout Butler County, Ohio.

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