You are driving your car, and someone who had a few too many at the local bar runs into your car from behind.
What rights do you have?
Well, first you have rights on the criminal side of the law, as long as the police have confirmed the driver was under the influence of alcohol. The driver would get a court date and you, as the victim, or your attorney have a right to speak at this hearing and let the court know how you feel about things like accelerated rehabilitation, a program which allows first-time offenders to take a class instead of criminal prosecution, and to let the court know what injuries you sustained in the accident.
Civilly, there are a number of causes of action you can pursue. First, obviously, the drunk driver’s insurance will be responsible to compensate you for your injuries up to the limits of that company’s limits. Second, you may have a right to recover from your own auto insurance policy under the underinsured motorist coverage available. Attorney Keith Trantolo wrote an excellent piece on that coverage and you can click here to get more information.
What if for one reason or another, there is no insurance available from the drunk driver or your auto insurance policy? What if there simply is not enough insurance? Luckily, there is a third option available. It is, however, a bit more complex and very, very, very time sensitive.
The Connecticut Legislature passed the Dram Shop Act for just these situations. If a bar serves a drink to a visibly intoxicated person and that person, while under the influence, causes injury to someone else, that bar can be held responsible for up to $250,000.
There are two major obstacles to this recovery. First, you need to prove the drunk driver was “visibly intoxicated” when the last drink was served. The best way to prove that is first, get the drunk driver’s blood alcohol content the responding police agency measures shortly after the accident. Next, your attorney needs to gather and interview as many witnesses as possible from the bar where the drinking occurred. It is always important to try to get witnesses as soon as possible after the incident in order to lock down any testimony before memories fade. With these two pieces you will be able to better prove the state of the drunk driver at the time of his last drink.
The second major obstacle is contained within the Dram Shop Act. In there, the statute states someone seeking recovery under that Act must give notice within ninety days to the seller of the alcohol with certain specific facts in that notice that are obtainable through various methods, one of which may be police reports. Some police reports, especially where serious charges like DUI, may take over ninety days to obtain. As a result, attorneys and investigators must use other means to get the requisite information in a timely manner.
The lesson from all of this is if you get involved in an accident where alcohol may have been a factor, it is vitally important to start investigating it as soon as possible to make sure this avenue of recovery does not expire after those ninety days.