Is a Drunk Driver Automatically at Fault for an Accident?

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If you are in an accident involving a drunk driver, the fact that they are impaired does not necessarily mean that they are responsible for the accident that leaves you injured – although it may be the case.

Car accident claims are predicated on the unique circumstances of each case, and you will need to prove that the other driver is responsible for causing the accident in question to bring a successful claim.

Often, the fact of the other driver’s impairment is clearly the factor that caused the accident in question, but there are exceptions. Generally, you can expect a drunk driver to be ticketed at the scene.

If you’ve suffered an injury in an accident involving a drunk driver, reach out to an experienced Greenville car accident attorney for the legal guidance you need.

The Elements of Your Car Accident Claim

To bring a successful car accident claim against another driver, several elements must be present, including:

  • The other driver owed you a duty of care, which every driver on every road owes everyone else on it. In other words, this element is met.
  • The other driver breached the duty of care owed to you by engaging in some kind of negligent driving practice, and drunk driving easily qualifies.
  • The other driver’s lapse in responsibility was the direct cause of the accident that left you injured (in South Carolina, the other driver must be at least 50 percent responsible). This is where the question of whether or not the other driver’s impairment was actually responsible for the accident comes into play.
  • You suffered losses as a result of the other driver’s negligence that are covered by the law.

While being drunk behind the wheel is extremely dangerous and often leads to serious accidents, a drunk driver can be involved in an accident without causing it.

If the drunk driver in question did not engage in some driving maneuver or practice that led to or contributed to the accident, their impairment might not be relevant to your claim. For example, if you rear-ended a drunk driver who was stopped at a red light, your own negligence is more likely to be the cause of the accident.

The Dangers of Drunk Driving

While drunk drivers are not automatically at fault for the accidents they are involved in, they are often determined to be responsible. NHTSA reminds us that the dangers associated with drunk driving are totally preventable. Consider the following statistics forwarded by the National Highway Traffic Association (NHTSA):

  • Every 45 minutes in the United States, a drunk driver kills someone.
  • 2020 saw a 14 percent increase in drunk driving fatalities (over 2019).
  • 11,654 people lost their lives in drunk driving accidents in 2020.
  • About 30 percent of all fatal crashes in the U.S. involve drivers with a blood alcohol content that is over the legal limit of .08 percent.

Because alcohol diminishes muscle coordination, brain function and reasoning abilities, these affect a motorist’s ability to drive safely.

Dangerous Driving Practices

Because drunk drivers are impaired, they’re far more likely to engage in dangerous driving practices such as the following:

  • Speeding excessively
  • Tailgating
  • Overcompensating by driving too slowly
  • Drifting in and out lanes
  • Ignoring traffic lights, signs, and signals
  • Driving erratically

If one of these actions causes or contributes to the accident that leaves you injured, you can seek compensation for the covered physical, financial, and emotional losses you experience.

Shared Fault in South Carolina

In South Carolina, as long as you are not more than 50 percent responsible for the accident that leaves you injured, you can seek the percentage of compensation for which the other driver is responsible.

Your own contributing actions to an accident with a drunk driver, such as speeding, are factored into the percentage of losses you can recover. If your percentage of fault is calculated at 10 percent for example, you can seek compensation for the 90 percent of your losses for which the other driver is responsible.

In other words, even if the drunk driver does not bear all the liability in your claim, they can still be held responsible for the portion of fault assigned to them.

If the Driver Is Not Identified as Being Drunk

You saw the driver’s performance behind the wheel, and you might believe that they were drunk. If the police fail to ticket the driver for impairment, however, there may be little you can do to prove that the other driver’s negligence was based on impairment.

In the end, proving impairment isn’t necessary. If you can demonstrate that the other driver’s actions behind the wheel are responsible for the accident that caused you to be injured, your job is done. If you do believe the other driver is impaired, however, it’s a good idea to let law enforcement at the scene know along with your reason for thinking so.

An Experienced Greenville Car Accident Attorney Can Help

If you’ve suffered an injury in an accident involving a drunk driver, fault is generally assigned to that driver, but assigning liability does not happen automatically. Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal because it is so dangerous, and going after the compensation to which you are entitled can be very important to your ability to recover fully.

The veteran car accident attorneys at Dan Pruitt Injury Law Firm in Greenville, South Carolina, are committed to applying the full strength of their impressive experience in pursuit of just compensation that covers your complete losses. Learn more about what we can do to help you by contacting or calling us at 864-280-7660 today.

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