Negligence and Damages in Drunk Driving Accident Cases

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This article is the third in a series of articles discussing why the injury lawyers at Tate Rehmet Law Office typically file a lawsuit against drunk drivers when we represent someone who a drunk driver has injured.  This article explains that our lawyers allege both negligence and gross negligence in the lawsuit against the drunk driver.  Drunk driving fits well within the definitions of negligence and gross negligence under Texas and Oklahoma law and it is advantageous to allege both causes of actions.  

Most people are generally familiar with the idea of negligence and understand that it means someone was unreasonably careless and caused damage to another person. Under Texas law, negligence is a cause of action which has a particular definition.  A cause of action is legal jargon meaning proper legal grounds that will support a lawsuit.  Negligence is defined as follows: 

“Negligence” means failure to use ordinary care, that is, failing to do that which a person of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances or doing that which a person of ordinary prudence would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.

“Ordinary care” means that degree of care that would be used by a person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances.

Ordinarily careful people don’t drive under the influence because they know DUI is a major cause of wrecks, injury, and death on our Texas and Oklahoma roadways.  DUI fits nicely within the Texas definition of negligence.  If a jury finds that a drunk driver is negligent, then they can proceed to assess damages for personal injuries.  These include things such as past and future medical bills, past and future pain and mental anguish, and loss of income, among others. 

In addition to negligence, we also allege that the drunk driver is grossly negligent.  Most people understand that gross negligence means the defendant was reckless in their actions and another person was damaged as a result.   Under Texas law gross negligence is defined as follows: 

“Gross negligence” means an act or omission by the defendant,

  1. which when viewed objectively from the standpoint of the defendant at the time of its occurrence involves an extreme degree of risk, considering the probability and magnitude of the potential harm to others; and
  2. of which the defendant has actual, subjective awareness of the risk involved, but nevertheless proceeds with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or welfare of others.

DUI fits nicely into Texas’ and Oklahoma’s definition of gross negligence.  DUI carries a risk of serious injury and death to others. The dangers of DUI are widely known and accepted to be true and it is easy to conclude that the drunk driver knew of the dangers at the time, but proceeded with indifference to everyone else on the roadway. Driving while intoxicated is gross negligence. 

Several advantages follow the gross negligence allegation.  The first advantage is that gross negligence opens up an additional element of damage called punitive damages. Punitive means to punish, and when someone is grossly negligent a jury can assess an amount of money in the verdict to punish the reckless behavior of the defendant. Punitive damages are sometimes called exemplary damages and they are only available if a defendant is shown to be grossly negligent.  

The gross negligence allegation can place the defense attorney, the defendant, and the insurance company in an awkward position. The insurance company may take the position that their policy doesn’t cover punitive damages. In that case, the defendant’s attorney has to tell the defendant his own insurance company might not cover all the damages. This can throw a wrench into the relationship and motivate a higher settlement valuation.

For drunk driving injury cases, a jury can award two types of damages to the victim of the drunk driver: economic damages and non-economic damages. These damages apply to cases involving both negligence and gross negligence and are called compensatory damages. Juries can also award additional punitive damages for gross negligence. Punitive damages are generally based on the amount determined for economic damages and non-economic damages. 

 

Compensatory Damages Include Economic and Non-Economic Damages: 

 

Economic Damages

  • Past and future medical expenses
    • Bills from doctors and other medical services
    • Prescription medicines and medical equipment
    • Physical therapy or rehabilitation
    • Cost of making home accessible for related disablement
  • Cost of travel to and from hospital appointments
  • Lost income, lost future earning potential, lost opportunities
  • Rental car expenses
  • Vehicle repair or replacement

 

Non-Economic Damages

  • Suffering, Pain, and Discomfort
    • Depression, anxiety, and mental disorders
    • Emotional distress
    • Loss of enjoyment
  • Physical impairments
  • Disfigurement and scars
  • General inconvenience
  • Loss of Consortium (sexual relations) or companionship

 

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are meant to deter bad conduct in the future. These damages are only available in cases where there is gross negligence. The amount set for punitive damages awarded may be subject to limitations set by both statutes and constitutional law. There are some exceptions to the statutes, however, which remove the limits on punitive damages for drunk drivers who cause their victims a serious injury.  

The drunk driving accident attorneys at Tate Rehmet Law Offices represent victims of drunk drivers, and our personal injury law firm has over three decades of experience in handling injury cases throughout Texas and Oklahoma. We serve North Texas, South Oklahoma (Texoma), including McKinney, Dallas, Sherman, Durant, Gainesville, Bonham, Pottsboro, Ardmore, Denison, Marietta. If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver or know someone who has, we encourage you to contact us now so we can answer your questions and discuss recovering your losses. You can reach us by phone, chat or email, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling (903) 892-4440 or by using the chat feature linked at the top and bottom of this webpage. Or you can use our contact form to send us an email.

 

Why Our Injury Lawyers Sue Drunk Drivers

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This article is one in a series of articles explaining why we, as civil lawyers handling personal injury and auto accident cases, almost always sue the drunk driver when we represent the victim. Our primary objective is to recover maximum compensation for the victim’s personal injuries.

We sue the drunk for several reasons.  First, the insurance adjusters who are initially assigned to handle the case extend low offers to victims of drunk drivers.  Second, drunk driving fits well within the definitions of both negligence and gross negligence under Texas law.   Third, intoxicated drivers often do not get adequately punished by the criminal system.  Fourth, there may be an additional civil lawsuit that can be brought against a bar, called a dram shop cause of action.  Fifth, once the drunk driver has pleaded guilty, we can depose them under oath. Finally, jury verdicts against intoxicated drivers can be quite large.

This article addresses the first reason we always sue the drunk driver: the initial insurance adjuster usually makes a low offer before a lawsuit is filed.

In my experience as a lawyer representing DWI victims, most of the large personal auto insurance carriers make low offers to resolve the injury claims caused by DUI and DWI.  This is counterintuitive, but it happens frequently.  It would seem like the initial adjuster would be motived to resolve the injury claim upfront and offer more money in order to get a release in favor of the drunk driver.  But this rarely occurs.  In fact, the first insurance adjuster might make offers of less than the medical bills.  These low offers do not reflect the value of personal injuries caused by drunk drivers.

For instance, we handled a case where a drunk driver hit another car in a parking lot, injuring the driver.  The wreck was not a large collision, the property damage was minimal, the injuries were essentially soft tissue in nature, and the bills were fairly low.  While this was not a case involving serious injury, it illustrates the low offers we often see on DUI cases.  Before filing the suit we tried to resolve the victim’s personal injury claims against the drunk driver by negotiating with the drunk driver’s insurance company.  The insurance adjuster offered less than our client’s medical bills to settle the personal injury claim.

In response, we sued the drunk driver.  There are many reasons to sue the drunk driver, and one reason is that a new adjuster is often assigned to handle the claim after the suit is filed. The first adjuster is usually replaced by a new litigation adjuster.  The litigation adjuster may have a more realistic evaluation and realize that the drunk driver has a large amount of liability. In addition, a civil lawyer is assigned by the auto insurance carrier to defend the civil case. This civil defense lawyer will most likely know about the size of civil jury verdicts rendered against drunk drivers, which can be quite large.  The new adjuster and lawyer, along with the pressure of the civil litigation, will cause the insurance company to re-evaluate their offer, and that is exactly what happened in our case against the drunk driver that hit our client in the parking lot.

In that case, even though the drunk driver had not pleaded guilty, the investigating police agency released their investigation to us in response to a subpoena. Those records and videos showed the drunk driver was very intoxicated, someone was passed out the back seat of her car, and she was not cooperative with the police officer. We gave that evidence to the drunk driver’s lawyer and requested that the drunk driver give a deposition.  The insurance company re-evaluated the case and offered our client 100% of the drunk driver’s personal injury insurance policy limit in exchange for a release of the drunk driver.

That case was resolved for several reasons, all of which stemmed from the lawsuit.  The point of this article is that when we sue to recover for the victim of a drunk driver, a new adjuster and lawyer are assigned to handle the claim.  They will most likely evaluate the personal injury claim with a more realistic valuation in the context of litigation.

If you have been hurt by a drunk driver please call our firm at (903) 892-4440.  The consultation is free and we can discuss suing the drunk driver for your personal injuries.

 

About the Author

Christopher Rehmet is the lead litigator at Tate Rehmet Law Office and has been practicing the area of personal injury for twenty years. Prior to practicing as a civil litigator, he was a prosecuting attorney in a District Attorney’s office.

 

 

Personal Injury Protection Insurance in Texas – What You Need to Know

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Personal Injury Protection Insurance In Texas – What You Need To KnowTexas, along with numerous others states, examines “fault” in a car accident when determining who is financially responsible. More specifically, according to the Texas Department of Insurance, “Texas law requires people who drive in Texas to pay for the accidents they cause.” In practice, drivers not at fault in a car wreck in Texas may file a claim with the liable party’s insurance company in order to recover compensation.

 

Additionally, although not legally required, many drivers opt to purchase personal injury protection (PIP) within an insurance policy, also commonly referred to as personal insurance protection. Many purchasing insurance are unaware of personal injury protection or do not fully understand it due to the ambiguity in most plans. While there are numerous variants of personal injury protection there are prototypical aspects across plans and providers for which we’d like to prepare you for as you review your personal injury protection options.

 

What is PIP?

 

Personal injury protection is a type of car insurance available to drivers throughout the state. Under Texas law, insurers must offer applicants $2,500 in PIP insurance, although drivers may choose to purchase a greater amount. Insured drivers may choose to reject this offer, but must make this request in writing.

 

How does PIP factor into a car accident claim? PIP insurance covers both medical bills up to the monetary amount purchased, as well as 80 percent of lost wages and the cost associated with hiring a caregiver for an injured victim.

 

In addition to covering the insured party, PIP insurance will also provide coverage for his or her family members and any passengers in the car, regardless of who was liable for the accident.

 

How PIP Works in Practice

 

To understand how PIP insurance works in practice, consider an example involving a Texas man who is struck by another driver. Here, the other driver is determined to be at fault, so the Texas man files a claim with the other driver’s insurance company to recover damages associated with medical bills and lost income. If the other driver has adequate PIP insurance, the Texas man will be fully compensated for the damages caused. Additionally, even though the other driver was at fault, he or she can still recover through his or her own PIP coverage, according to Texas law. Both parties in this scenario are compensated for damages including personal injury.

 

What if PIP Doesn’t Cover All Damages?

 

If, however, the other driver’s PIP insurance does not cover all damages associated with the accident, the Texas man, described in this example as the victim, retains the right to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to recover adequate compensation. In this scenario, the Texas man would attempt to sue the at-fault driver, a process that often requires the assistance of an attorney with skill and experience.

 

Even in cases where the at-fault driver carries adequate personal injury protection it is not uncommon for an insurance company to offer the victim a claim that does not fully compensate for damages. It is important for the victim to know their rights under Texas law and seek consulting with a personal injury attorney to help maximize damage recovery.

 

Can We Help You with Your Car Accident Claim?

 

Whether you plan on filing a car accident claim in Texas, or hope to initiate a personal injury lawsuit in order to recover due compensation, make sure to do so with the help of a legal professional. The Sherman car accident attorneys at Tate Rehmet Law Office, P.C. can provide you with a comprehensive overview of the PIP system, and will work aggressively on your behalf. Reach out to us for a free case review by calling 903-892-4440.

 

“Insurance” image “Insurance” Chris Potter, CC-BY-2.0.