While all US states make it a crime to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drunk driving accidents still claim more than 10,000 lives every year. On a local level, the problem is even more extreme. South Carolina ranked third nationwide for the most drunk driving fatalities in 2019, after taking second place in 2018. Thousands more suffer serious injuries in DUI crashes, leading to devastating losses for victims and their families.
If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a drunk driving collision, you might get some closure from knowing that the responsible driver could face serious criminal penalties. However, a conviction does nothing to alleviate the consequences for your life. Fortunately, you do have legal options that you can trust a South Carolina DUI accident lawyer to pursue. You can also read on for an overview of your rights as a victim.
Civil Options for Victims of Drunk Driving Accidents: A motorist convicted of violating South Carolina’s DUI law faces serious penalties, including imprisonment from 48 hours to 30 days, a six-month driver’s license suspension, and $400 fine. Subsequent DUI offenses could lead to harsher punishment. These sanctions are imposed through the criminal justice system, which is separate from your legal remedies. Your rights are civil in nature because you will seek monetary damages as compensation for your losses.
The distinction is important, since you have a somewhat easier burden as a civil claimant. You do not need to prove that the responsible driver is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard that applies in a criminal case. Rather, you must establish that it is more likely than not that:
- The impaired motorist had a legal duty to exercise reasonable care when driving;
- He or she breached this duty by driving while under the influence of alcohol;
- The breach of duty was the direct cause of the DUI accident; and,
- You suffered harm as a result of the collision.
Seeking Your Legal Remedies After a DUI Crash: Instead of going directly to court, your first step toward recovering compensation after a drunk driving accident is filing a claim with the motorist’s insurance company. It is possible to reach a fair settlement in some cases, but victims of DUI collisions often face pushback. The insurer might offer a lowball amount to settle, perhaps on the grounds that you were at fault or your injuries are not serious. Under such circumstances, you must file a lawsuit in court to get the monetary damages you deserve.
Damages Available in DUI Accident Cases: Through the insurance claims process or litigation, victims of drunk driving crashes may seek three types of compensation:
- Economic damages, including bills you incur for medical treatment, repairs to your vehicle, lost wages, and out-of-pocket costs;
- Noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering and emotional distress; and,
- Punitive damages, which are intended to punish the drunk driver for reckless, willful, or malicious actions. South Carolina places limits on punitive damages by statute, so you can only recover three times the sum of your economic and noneconomic damages OR $500,000 – whichever is greater.
Contact a South Carolina Auto Accident Attorney to Discuss Your Options
This overview should help you understand the key concepts in DUI crashes, but there are many other legal details and tasks you need to know to recover compensation. To ensure you receive the highest possible monetary damages, please contact Powers Law, LLC to set up a consultation at our office in Greenwood, SC. We can advise you on your rights and remedies once we review your circumstances.