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Fatal Drunk Driving Accidents: What You need to Know

Drunk driving accidents tear families and communities apart, and for that reason the state makes driving while intoxicated a crime. Unfortunately, thousands of people continue to drive while impaired, and some of their accidents end up costing innocent people their lives.

Our firm is dedicated to protecting our client’s rights to fair treatment and compensation. Please contact us if a drunk driver killed someone you love. In Georgia, certain family members can file a wrongful death claim, which is a type of civil action. Our Atlanta wrongful death attorneys will gladly explain more about the law in a free consultation.

Drunk Driving Fatalities Have Exploded

The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety collects drunk driving accident information. Their statistics show that the number of alcohol-related fatalities has jumped significantly over the past decade:

  • 2012: 295 fatalities
  • 2019: 355 fatalities
  • 2020: 373 fatalities
  • 2021: 391 fatalities

This represents an increase of more than 30% from 2012 to 2021.

In 2021, 22% of all traffic accident deaths were alcohol related, meaning a person had a high blood alcohol concentration. And these numbers do not include the number of accidents involving marijuana and other drugs.

Driving Under the Influence is Wrongful

DUI is a misdemeanor or felony offense, which can net defendants time in jail. In addition to being illegal, drunk driving is also a civil wrong. This means that victims can sue a drunk driver for their injuries following a crash. Getting behind the wheel while drunk or high is not something a reasonably careful person would do. Consequently, the driver is liable whenever they crash and injure someone.

Georgia wrongful death cases are a type of personal injury lawsuit. Surviving family members can sue the defendant fatally injuring a loved one. For example, a drunk driver might have struck your spouse while she was crossing the road or plowed into your teenager’s vehicle while they were driving to school. You can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver and seek compensation.

You Might Sue a Business for Supplying Alcohol to the Driver

Georgia law (OCGA 51-1-40) states a general rule that people who sell or supply alcohol to drivers are not liable for accidents. But there are two exceptions:

  • The defendant willfully and knowingly furnished or served alcohol to a person who was noticeably intoxicated, or
  • The defendant willfully and knowingly furnished or served alcohol to someone under age 21.

If the defendant also knew the person they served was about to drive, then they are liable for the crash.

Sometimes, we can sue a bar or tavern who serves an obviously drunk person. The customer might also have his car keys on the bar or table, so the staff is on notice that he will drive soon.

In other cases, a parent hosts a party and supplies alcohol to minors, knowing they drove to the house and will drive home afterward. That parent could also face liability for any drunk driving accident a guest gets into. It is obvious that the person would end up driving home, and it’s illegal to supply alcohol to someone under 21.

You Deserve Compensation

Family members who file wrongful death lawsuits seek financial compensation. The goal is to make up for the loss of a beloved family member as best you can. Of course, money is no substitute for a lost spouse or child, but it’s what the court can order a defendant to pay.

Our Atlanta wrongful death lawyers usually request the following damages:

  • Lost income and benefits. Losing a spouse is financially devastating. You lose out on potentially decades of income and benefits.
  • Lost services provided by the deceased. Your loved one could have regularly done laundry, household cleaning, cooking, or transportation. You can receive the market value of any lost services.
  • Loss of companionship, care, and advice. It is difficult to translate these losses into monetary terms. Still, we can request an amount that is fair based on other settlements.

A drunk driver should have a liability insurance policy, which Georgia requires before they can register their vehicle. If you can sue a business, they should also have a business liability policy to cover payment of compensation. Let us negotiate on your behalf.

Punitive Damages Are Possible

You might also seek punitive damages for a drunk driving accident. Under OCGA 51-12-5.1, a victim can seek punitive damages when the defendant’s conduct manifests:

  • Fraud
  • Malice
  • Oppression
  • Wantonness
  • Willful misconduct
  • Conscious indifference to consequences

Drunk driving fits comfortably into this scheme. Getting behind the wheel while drunk or high is the type of willful and wanton behavior that punitive damages are designed to prevent.

Even better, Georgia doesn’t cap punitive damages when a defendant is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In other cases, there’s a maximum of $250,000—but that cap doesn’t apply in a drunk driving case. However, you can only seek punitive damages against the driver, not someone else.

You Can Sue Regardless of Whether Criminal Charges are Filed

DUI is a Georgia crime. We would fully expect the state to prosecute someone who drunkenly smashed into your loved one and caused their death. The good news, however, is that your right to bring a wrongful death case doesn’t depend on the outcome of the criminal case. The state could choose not to prosecute—or the defendant could even be acquitted—and it’s still possible to win this civil case.

Call Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys for More Information

Drunk driving is an outrage. Far too many motorists are thinking only about themselves when they put the keys into the ignition while drunk or high. Innocent people are killed through no fault of their own.

A wrongful death lawsuit is one way to seek justice following a fatal DUI. Let the district attorney decide whether to bring criminal charges. You can still seek a wrongful death claim by calling our law firm today. We are available to meet for a consultation if you call our law firm at (404) 529-3476.

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