Last Friday, a Toppenish man pleaded guilty in the Yakima County Superior Court to both vehicular homicide and vehicular assault and was sentenced to 30 months in prison as a result. The Toppenish resident was the driver in a drunk driving accident last November that killed one passenger and seriously injured another.
Despite efforts by both public and private organizations over the last few decades, drunk driving continues to be a problem in the State of Washington. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, there were 41,501 alcohol-related driving fatalities in the United States in 1998. Ten years later, in 2007, the number had decreased by only 441 to 41,059. The State of Washington ranked in the upper third of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities as a percentage of total fatalities in 2007.
Although people should be aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, as well as the criminal penalties that go along with being caught and convicted of driving under the influence, people continue to drive after drinking. Most people think they are still fine to drive when they get behind the wheel. The reality is that alcohol slows a driver’s reaction time. Anything that slows a driver’s reaction time can create a deadly risk to other motorists on the roadway. Although the more a person drinks, the more serious the risk, even a couple of beers or a couple of glasses of wine may impair the driver’s ability to react to road hazards or to prevent an accident.
Who Is Responsible for the Financial Loss Suffered by a Victim of Drunk Driving?
A drunk driving accident essentially has two separate legal components — the criminal and the civil. The criminal consequences faced by someone who was driving drunk and caused an accident generally include criminal charges being filed and the corresponding penalties if convicted. In some criminal cases, restitution is also ordered to be paid to a victim. This amount is typically far less than the financial loss caused by the accident. In addition, the restitution may difficult to collect if the defendant is sentenced to prison or is indigent.
The civil side of a drunk driving accident operates in much the same way as other car accident cases. A driver who was driving under the influence of alcohol and caused an accident as a result may be found negligent by a judge or jury. Although the question of negligence may be clear, financial responsibility may still be an obstacle.
If the driver was covered by liability insurance, then the road to compensation for the victim is clearer. However, a drunk driver is often driving on a suspended license and without liability insurance. When this is the case, the victim’s own liability insurance may be an option if the victim was covered by underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage.
Another possible source of compensation for the victim is the bar, restaurant or establishment where the driver was drinking prior to getting behind the wheel. Like many states, the State of Washington has laws, referred to as “dram shop laws,” that can potentially hold anyone who continued to serve an intoxicated person alcohol after it was clear that he or she was intoxicated liable for any injuries the individual later causes as a result of the intoxication. In other words, if the driver was clearly drunk, and someone continued to serve him or her alcohol, that establishment could be liable for your injuries.
If you have been injured in a drunk driving accident in the Yakima area, you need a Yakima attorney on your side who understands the laws that relate to liability in a drunk driving accident. The accident attorneys at The Mariano Morales Law can help. Contact our lawyers and staff today by calling (509) 853-2222 for your free initial consultation.