Drunk Drivers and Auto Accidents


A disproportionate number of car accidents and motorcycle accidents, whether involving a single vehicle or multiple vehicles, involve drivers who are intoxicated at the time of the collision. In most accidents involving intoxicated drivers, the impaired driver will be primarily or solely responsible for causing the accident.

Drunk Drivers and Car Accidents

Due to the effect of alcohol consumption on driving ability and driver reaction time, intoxicated drivers are at a significantly heightened risk of accident, be it a single vehicle accident, or an accident involving multiple vehicles.

Alcohol consumption is a leading factor in fatal motorcycle accidents.

Although significant effort has been made to educate the public about drunk driving, and to discourage people from driving while intoxicated or otherwise impaired by the consumption of alcohol, drunk driving remains quite prevalent. As a consequence, drivers whose ability to operate a motor vehicle is significantly impaired by the consumption of alcohol, medications, controlled substances, or some combination of intoxicants cause a disproportionately high number of motor vehicle accidents.

Recovering Damages

Although in most accidents involving an impaired driver, that driver is at fault, sometimes an accident is caused by factors other than the driver's impairment. Whether or not a drunk driver is at fault for an accident, most people will infer from their intoxication that the drunk driver was at fault or at least that the drunkenness was a significant contributing factor in the accident. That inference can make it difficult for a drunk driver to defend against a lawsuit.

Juries tend to want to punish drunk driving conduct. especially where the impaired driving results in an accident that causes injury to others, and thus damages awards may be larger than normal in cases involving drunk drivers.

At the same time, many drunk drivers carry inadequate insurance coverage or have no insurance whatsoever, and uninsured drivers rarely have significant personal assets that can be reached to pay a judgment or settlement. When you obtain car insurance, it is a very good idea to add uninsured motorist coverage and, if available, underinsured motorist coverage to your own auto insurance policy in order to protect yourself and your family from potential economic hardship following an accident caused by a driver who is not adequately insured.

Non-Dischargeability of a Judgment

Judgments resulting from injuries caused by a voluntarily intoxicated person are normally not dischargeable in bankruptcy. This means that a drunk driver who does not have adequate insurance coverage will normally not be able to avoid paying the judgment by resorting to bankruptcy.

As many states will decline to renew the license of a driver who has an unsatisfied judgment against him as the result of a motor vehicle accident, non-dischargeability can have a significant impact on the at-fault drunk driver.

Criminal Prosecution

As it is a crime to drive a vehicle while your ability to do so is impaired due to the consumption of intoxicants, an impaired driver who is involved in an accident is likely to face criminal prosecution after the police respond to the scene. Many states significantly increase the criminal penalties imposed on impaired drivers who are involved in accidents that result in serious personal injury, and all states have laws that can impose serious penalties on impaired drivers who cause accidents that result in a death.

A victim of an automobile accident involving an impaired driver should explore the possibility of obtaining restitution through the criminal courts. Although some defendants may not be able to pay much restitution, or any at all, a restitution claim may provide an opportunity to recover losses resulting from the accident that are not covered by insurance, and may provide the only realistic means of recovering damages from a drunk driver who is not insured.

Copyright © 2006 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Jul 19, 2016.