Were you hit by a drunk driver? Settlement is usually a better option than a full-blown civil trial. The reality, however, is that the amounts of DUI accident settlements vary so widely that any attempt to quote an “average” is virtually meaningless.
That being said, however, six-figure settlements are not uncommon. There are a variety of factors that go into negotiating drunk driver settlement amounts.
Criminal Liability and Ohio Personal Injury Law
Driving while intoxicated is a crime in Ohio. However, a criminal prosecution and a civil lawsuit are two separate proceedings. Even if the driver is acquitted in criminal court or charges are dropped, you can still win a civil lawsuit. The main reason for this disparity is that it is a lot easier to win a lawsuit for money damages than it is to win a criminal prosecution. If the defendant is convicted, however, that could help you win a civil lawsuit.
In Ohio, breaking a traffic regulation (by driving while intoxicated, for example) is automatic negligence, otherwise known as negligence per se. You can prove that the defendant broke the law by presenting evidence of their guilty plea or conviction in criminal court or with other evidence. Many drunk driving lawsuit settlements happen this way.
Factors That Affect the Average Drunk Driver Settlement
A skilled personal injury lawyer can exploit all the following factors to maximize the value of your settlement. Your lawyer should possess experience in obtaining drunk driving lawsuit settlements.
The Strength of Your Claim
How likely are you to win if your claim goes to trial? The defendant is likely to be more willing to settle if defeat at trial seems assured. If the defendant has already lost in criminal court, your bargaining power is likely to be strong.
The Amount of Your Damages
The greater your losses, the higher the settlement you can demand, up to the defendant’s ability to pay. If you suffered permanent injury, for example, damages might be sky-high. If you suffered long-term damages, your lawyer can help you estimate future damages. Damages might consist of:
- Medical expenses,
- Lost earnings,
- Out-of-pocket expenses,
- Pain and suffering, and
- Other intangible psychological losses.
Punitive damages may also be available in drunk driving cases. However, punitive damages may not amount to more than two-thirds of the entire award, with an absolute maximum of $350,000.
Although Ohio courts are reluctant to award punitive damages, they might be more willing to do so in a drunk driving accident.
What happens if you were partially at fault for the accident? In Ohio, you can still recover as long as your percentage of fault for the accident does not exceed 50%. If it is 50% or below, your claim’s value will be reduced proportionately.
If you were 10% at fault, for example, you will lose 10% of your damages. You can expect the defendant to try to pin part of the blame on you.
If you are negotiating with an insurance company, the limits of the defendant’s insurance company tend to set the ultimate upper limits of a settlement. In Ohio, the required minimum auto accident liability insurance is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, with an additional $25,000 per accident in property damage liability.
Alternative Sources of Compensation
Ohio’s minimum liability insurance coverage is low, and sometimes defendants don’t carry insurance at all. If your claim is too large for the insurance company to pay, a good lawyer will search for alternative sources of compensation. Below are some of the most common:
- The defendant’s bank account or other assets;
- The defendant’s employer, if the defendant was on-duty and acting within the scope of employment at the time of the accident;
- Supplemental insurance coverage, such as your own uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage;
- The nightclub that served the defendant alcohol prior to the accident, if the nightclub knew the defendant was under 21 or ignored the defendant’s obvious intoxication; and
- The manufacturer of an airbag, if an airbag malfunction exacerbated your injuries.
An attorney can help you identify all potential sources of compensation.
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