Phoenix Lawyer for Drunk Driving Accident Claims
Drunk driving continues to be among the leading causes of motor vehicle injuries and death in Arizona and throughout the United States, despite the fact that initiatives to warn the public have been ongoing for several decades. According to a recent Crash Facts report conducted by the Arizona Department of Transportation, there were 4,854 alcohol-related crashes in 2017 alone, accounting for 320 fatalities and 3,095 injuries.
If you or a loved one has been harmed in a drunk driving accident, we encourage you to contact an experienced Phoenix accident attorney at Hirsch & Lyon for guidance. Our firm has spent decades focused entirely on litigating car, truck, motorcycle, and pedestrian accident claims, including those that center around an intoxicated driver. Contact us for a free consultation.We offer 24 hour claim review, and no attorney’s fees unless you win.
What Qualifies as a Drunk Driver in Arizona?
In Arizona, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Whether a driver is actually intoxicated turns on whether they are reasonably impaired from safely operating their motor vehicle. This may be determined based on the police officer’s assessment of the driver’s state determination in some cases, such as through a field sobriety test or other physical features of the driver. More commonly,an arrest is made or it may be automatically determined if the driver is found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher via a Breathalyzer or other blood alcohol test.
There are additional additional “automatic” intoxication considerations, factors as well, which would determine if a driver may be considered legally drunk and liable to you in an accident claim:
- 0.04 percent blood alcohol level for commercial drivers
- Any amount of alcohol in the blood of a minor
- Any amount of an illegal substance (i.e., cocaine, meth, etc.)
If a driver fulfills any of the criterion and causes an accident, you may be entitled to damages via a personal injury lawsuit. If you believe you have a claim, you should meet with a Phoenix drunk driving accident attorney to begin your claim. If the court finds that the defendant satisfies any of these intoxication standards, you will not have to prove that the defendant was intoxicated by evaluating the severity of their impairments — instead, their intoxication will be assumed.
A Skilled Phoenix Accident Attorney May Be Able to Secure Punitive Damages
There are many damages available to a plaintiff who prevails in a personal injury lawsuit, but drunk driving accidents also have the potential to earn punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded by the court when the defendant acts willfully, maliciously or in an otherwise egregious manner that must be “punished” so that they, and others in society, are discouraged from conducting themselves similarly.
Punitive damages are rare, but when they are potentially available, our skilled accident lawyers are relentless in pursuing such damages — after all, punitive damages act as a multiplier for the total amount of compensatory damages (up to nine times, in some extreme cases). A case that is normally worth $100,000 in damages can escalate into a $500,000+ case if punitive damages apply.
Generally speaking, mere negligence is not enough to qualify the plaintiff to receive punitive damages. Fortunately, drunk driving is not mere negligence — it typically falls under gross negligence, thus justifying the application of punitive damages in some cases. Courts do not have to award punitive damages, however, and in fact, they have substantial discretion to choose when to award punitive damages. In Arizona and elsewhere, the more egregious an accident is, the more likely it is that the court will find punitive damages appropriate.
For example, if a drunk driver brags about getting drunk and driving later (bragging while sober at a party), the court may find that it is indicative of a level of malice justifying punitive damages. Contact a Phoenix accident attorney right away to discuss your legal rights in this regard.
Third-Party Liability in Arizona Drunk Driving Accidents
Though the drunk driver may be held directly responsible for your injuries, in some cases, a third-party may also be at fault. If the drunk driver has insufficient insurance coverage to compensate you for your losses, then aggressively pursuing claims against third-parties is a great strategy for ensuring full and adequate compensation.
Employers may not generally be held vicariously liable for a drunk driving accident caused by an employee, even if that employee was acting within the course and scope of their employment. Instead, plaintiffs looking to attach liability to the employer will have to pursue independent negligence claims against the employer, such as negligent hiring or supervision.
For example, suppose that you are seriously injured in a drunk driving accident involving an intoxicated trucker. As you investigate the accident, you discover that the trucker employee was a known alcoholic at the time of hiring and that their employer ignored this issue and chose to hire them anyway (without providing any sort of supervision or training to prevent possible drunk driving incidents). Under such circumstances, a negligent hiring claim may likely succeed, and the employer may be ordered to pay you damages via a drunk driving personal injury lawsuit..
Dram Shop Liability
Dram shops — in other words, licensed vendors of alcohol — can be held responsible for the actions of a drunk driver, though only in certain circumstances. In Arizona, if a “dram shop” serves alcohol carelessly, liability for the driver’s subsequent drunken actions may be at least partially imposed on the liquor vendor.
Specifically, Arizona law imposes liability on dram shops that serve alcohol to minors or serve alcohol to customers who are clearly intoxicated. In drunk driving accident disputes involving potential dram shop liability, the conflict often centers around whether the customer was clearly intoxicated given the circumstances.
Social Host Liability
Social hosts may also be held responsible for a drunk driving accident, though. It should be noted, however, that social hosts are not absolute guarantors of safety. A social host cannot be held responsible for any drunk driving accident that occurs due to alcohol having been served at their event. Instead, a limited set of circumstances must apply in order for liability to be imposed on a social host.
Specifically, Arizona law imposes significant civil liability on social hosts who serve alcohol to a minor who subsequently gets involved in a drunk driving accident and thereby injures or kills the plaintiff. Arizona law does not punish social hosts for serving alcohol to adult guests, even in situations where the social host is aware that the adult guest is already quite intoxicated. As these circumstances may be difficult to prove, it’s best to consult with a Phoenix accident attorney to see if you have a viable social host or third party claim.
Recovering in an Arizona Wrongful Death Claim for a Drunk Driving Accident
In Arizona, as well as other states, certain qualified, surviving family members (related to the deceased) may recover damages for wrongful death when their loved one dies in a motor vehicle accident, whether the accident was caused by another’s negligence, recklessness or intentional misconduct.
For example, if your spouse is killed in a drunk driving accident, then you would very likely have an actionable claim for damages under Arizona wrongful death law. Those damages could compensate you for losses sustained in the wake of the death of your spouse (i.e., loss of financial support, loss of companionship, pain and suffering due to the death, loss of domestic services, etc.), as well as the losses sustained directly by your spouse (i.e., medical expenses, funeral expenses, pain and suffering prior to death, wage loss, etc.).
It’s worth noting that not every surviving family member or dependent is necessarily entitled to recover wrongful death damages. The state of Arizona entitles only the following persons to such damages:
- Parent or guardian
- Personal representative of the deceased
- Personal representative of the deceased person’s estate
It is also worth noting that wrongful death claims may give rise to punitive damages when circumstances allow.If you believe you have a wrongful death claim, you need to file the lawsuit as early as possible to prevent the statute of limitations from barring your claim.
Contact Hirsch & Lyon to Schedule a Free Consultation with Our Experienced Phoenix DUI Accident Attorneys
Here at Hirsch & Lyon, our Phoenix accident attorneys have decades of experience working with injured plaintiffs in a variety of disputes, including drunk driving-related incidents (which can be uniquely challenging to litigate).
Compared to the typical“standard” motor vehicle accident case, a drunk driving accident is simpler in some respects and more complicated in others respects — depending on the severity of your losses, there may be substantially more at stake. As such, it’s critical that you work with a legal team that is capable of not only winning your case, but also securing the maximum available damages under the circumstances.
Ready to move forward? We can evaluate your claims and help you identify the next steps to take to advance your legal interests. Contact a skilled Phoenix drunk driving accident attorney at Hirsch & Lyon at 602-535-1900 or fill out our online form to request a free and confidential consultation.We handle claims throughout Arizona.