What to do if injured by a driver under the influence | Ward and Smith, PA

Immediately and without warning, a drunk driver can cause a serious and often fatal car accident. This wreck can change your life or the life of a loved one forever.

In the United States, approximately 32 people die in drunk-driving accidents every day (or one person every 45 minutes). According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), those numbers have only increased in recent years. For example, in 2020 there were a total of 11,654 alcohol-related road fatalities, a 14% increase from 2019. Drug impairments also cause car accidents. According to NHTSA, 56% of drivers involved in serious injuries and fatalities tested positive for at least one drug.

As detailed below, accidents caused by an impaired driver present unique circumstances and time is truly of the essence when hiring a personal injury attorney. An attorney can work to secure evidence, locate the vehicle, interview witnesses, trace an impaired driver’s steps to the wreck, communicate with insurance companies to determine any applicable coverages, and with law enforcement regarding investigations or charges the impaired driver.

Indemnification and Punitive Damages

If you are injured as a result of another driver’s negligence, you are entitled to compensation. According to the law, you should make these damages “whole”. Compensation may include medical expenses incurred, future medical expenses, lost wages, reduced ability to work, pain and suffering, scarring or disfigurement, loss of use of a limb, or durability related to sustained injury. This award of damages will be determined by the parties, a judge or a jury, resulting in an appropriate amount of damages based on the specific circumstances of the case.

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If your injuries were caused by a driver operating under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, you may be entitled to punitive damages in addition to damages. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not intended to “cure” you. Instead, they have two specific policy goals: (1) punishing suspects for egregiously wrongful acts, and (2) deterring the suspect and others from such wrongful acts. There is also no strict cap on the amount of punitive damages in drunk driving cases.

Multiple parties

Persons other than the at-fault driver can also be held liable if the at-fault driver is driving under the influence of alcohol.

Dram Shop claim. It is illegal under North Carolina law for an establishment to serve alcoholic beverages to guests it knows or should have known to be intoxicated. A dram shop claim may be available if a drunk, at-fault driver has previously been to a bar, restaurant or other establishment and served alcoholic beverages. It is imperative to act quickly in these situations to recover potential video footage, witness statements, and other evidence of the drunk driver’s consumption at the facility.

Social host liability. Under North Carolina law, a private third party, e.g. B. the host of a party being held liable for damage caused by a drunk driver. If the drunk driver consumed alcohol at a private party or gathering and the host of such a gathering made the alcohol available to the driver knew or could reasonably be assumed to have known that the person was intoxicated before attending the gathering left knowing that the person was intoxicated and would be driving when leaving, the host may be held liable for any damage caused by the drunk driver. Again, it is imperative to act quickly in these situations to get as much evidence as possible.

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Liability for vicarious agents and other considerations of third parties. If a culpable driver drives someone else’s vehicle, the owner of the vehicle can also be held liable. Under North Carolina law, a person who operates another person’s vehicle is deemed to be doing so with the authority, consent, and knowledge of the owner. Therefore, this presumption of representation can also make the owner of the vehicle liable for the actions of a culpable driver. The employer of the culpable driver can also be held liable if the culpable driver drove the vehicle within the scope and scope of his employment. In addition, a vehicle owner, family member or employer may be liable for negligent entrustment if they allow someone to drive knowing or should have known that that person was dangerous (including through poisoning). Likewise, employers can be held liable for negligent hiring, supervision or detention of workers who pose a danger to other drivers because of their past behavior or other warning signs that they may be driving under the influence of alcohol.


Unfortunately, everyday people get into horrific accidents due to drunk drivers or other decisions to drive under the influence of alcohol. Navigating a car accident can be extremely difficult and overwhelming. A competent, experienced personal injury attorney can assist with this process. Although no amount of money can fix the situation, a personal injury attorney can work to ensure you receive all the compensation and assistance to which you are entitled under North Carolina law.