Wrongful Death Drunk Driving

Drunk driving is a plague on Florida roads, contributing to more than 800 deaths a year just in this state alone, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). It accounts for about 30 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities both here and across the U.S.

The estimated economic cost of all alcohol-impaired crashes in the U.S. is $44 billion. Much of that burden is on those who have suffered the loss of a loved one. This includes medical costs, workplace losses, lost productivity, medical expenses, emergency medical services, property damage and legal and court expenses. The good news is your wrongful death attorney’s services will be handled on a contingency fee basis, meaning you don’t pay attorney fees upfront – and none at all unless you win.

When a drunk driver causes a death, there are many avenues through which our Fort Lauderdale wrongful death attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm can help survivors seek damages.

That includes not only the drunk driver, but also potentially the vendor that served alcohol, the owner of the vehicle, the drunk driver’s employer and possibly others. It will depend heavily on the individual facts of the case.

Because wrongful death cases have a statute of limitations of just two years – as opposed to the four years granted to personal injury claimants – it’s imperative to discuss your legal options as soon as possible with an experienced attorney.

Negligence Per Se Drunk Driving

Drunk driving in Florida is a crime, pursuant to F.S. 316.193. Motorists are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level that meets or exceeds 0.08. One can also be considered “under the influence” of drugs or alcohol if they are:

  • In actual physical control of the vehicle;
  • The influence of alcohol or drugs affects the person’s normal faculties.

Scientific evidence such as blood tests, breathalyzer tests and crash reconstruction often play a large role in these cases.

Civil injury and wrongful death claims do not require proof of a crime to prevail. However, when there is violation of a law enacted to protect the public from harm, we refer to this as negligence per se. Florida Civil Instruction 401.9 notes that a violation of certain ordinances can be used as evidence of negligence, which must be considered together with other facts and circumstances to determine whether the defendant was negligent.

In other words, the mere fact that a person was drunk while driving and involved in a crash does not automatically mean they will be deemed negligent and liable to pay damages. Plaintiff must still prove the violation caused the crash and resulted in damages to decedent/ plaintiff.

Florida’s No-Fault Law

Florida is considered a “no-fault” state when it comes to auto insurance.

According to F.S. 627.736, all motorists are required to secure personal injury protection (PIP) benefits as part of their auto insurance policies. This insurance extends to the named insured, relatives residing in the same household, persons who operate the insured vehicle, passengers in the vehicle and other persons struck by the motor vehicle who suffer bodily injury while not an occupant of that motor vehicle (i.e., bicyclists and pedestrians).

PIP benefits will include up to $10,000 in medical and disability benefits and $5,000 in death benefits for deaths that result from bodily injury, sickness, disease or death arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle. The $5,000 in death benefits are in addition to what one would receive for medical and disability benefits under the policy. These are paid by decedent’s insurer to decedent’s administrator of estate and/ or survivors. This is true regardless of who was at-fault.

Despite being a no-fault state, injured motorists or survivors of those deceased can pursue bodily injury liability compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurer in certain cases. Per F.S. 627.737(2)(d), that includes death.

Compensation for Drunk Driving Wrongful Death

Collecting on PIP benefits is only the first step in a fatal DUI case. Our attentions will next turn to the alleged drunk driver. As noted, DUI is a crime and once established, can be used to find a defendant negligent as a matter of law. In most cases, this will mean defendant driver’s insurer will be liable to pay damages.

Unfortunately, most motorists only carry the minimum level of insurance. Florida’s Financial Responsibility Law requires any person at-fault in a crash have in effect full liability insurance coverage, a minimum of $10,000 per person and $20,000 per crash for bodily injury liability. That does not go very far, especially when in cases of wrongful death. That means we must often additionally pursue other means of compensation.

That could mean holding defendants personally liable, which would involve filing a claim on personal assets. However, unless the at-fault driver is independently wealthy, this could prove fruitless.

Another means of compensation is UM/ UIM (uninsured/ underinsured motorist) benefits. Per F.S. 627.727, these are not required benefits, but most policies come standard with them (insured must sign a formal declination to refuse them), and they are equal to the policy’s bodily injury liability limit. This is coverage one can obtain when they suffer injury or wrongful death by a drunk driver who is either uninsured or lacks sufficient coverage for the total damages.

In addition to this, plaintiffs may consider pursuing punitive damages, per F.S. 768.72. Unlike compensatory damages, which are intended to compensate a victim, punitive damages are intended to penalize a wrongdoer. They are allowed when a defendant has engaged in intentional misconduct or gross negligence. It’s generally not an option for car accident victims, but it can be in drunk driving accident wrongful death cases.

Finally, in some drunk driving cases, it may be worthwhile to pursue dram shop liability. Florida’s dram shop law, F.S. 768.125, is very limited in scope. It states alcohol vendors are not liable for injury or damage caused by a person who becomes intoxicated by that alcohol. However, there are two exceptions:

  • The vendor has sold alcohol to someone under 21;
  • The vendor has sold alcohol to someone the vendor knows is habitually addicted to alcohol.

This is the provision under which we can seek to hold bars, restaurants, night clubs and other vendors liable for fatal drunk driving accidents in Fort Lauderdale.

If you have lost a loved one in a Florida drunk driving crash, our compassionate, dedicated attorneys can help answer your questions and guide you through the legal process during this difficult time.

Fort Lauderdale Injury Lawyer – (954) 761-4011 – Free Consultation

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