Are Drunk Drivers Always at Fault in Georgia Car Accidents?

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Key Points:

  • Even though drivers charged with DUI may face criminal penalties, they are not always held liable for car accident claims.
  • To recover compensation for a civil claim, it’s not enough for an injured party to show the intoxicated driver broke the law—they must also prove the driver’s negligent behavior caused the accident.
  • If another driver caused an accident and you suffered injuries, you can receive compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company even if you were intoxicated.
  • Because Georgia is a comparative negligence state, the insurance company may argue that the intoxicated driver was at least partially responsible for the accident and is not entitled to full compensation.

Because approximately 10,000 Americans are killed each year by drunk drivers and many more are injured, Georgia has strict laws and penalties aimed at reducing DUI accidents. If you are involved in a car accident while driving under the influence, you will likely be arrested and criminally charged by the police officer at the scene.

While a DUI charge can result in criminal penalties, however, the car accident victim must file a civil claim to recover damages caused by the at-fault driver. Many people assume that the driver charged with DUI is automatically responsible for the accident and resulting injuries, but that’s not true. To recover compensation for a claim, it’s not enough for the injured party to show the driver broke the law—they must also prove the driver’s negligent behavior caused the accident.

This concept may seem confusing; however, there are a number of laws designed to protect the public whose violation does not prove negligence in a car accident claim. For example, Georgia drivers are required by law to wear seatbelts, and drivers may be subject to penalties for violating this law if they weren’t belted during a collision. But the failure to wear a seatbelt can’t cause an accident, so breaking this law doesn’t prove negligence.

Often, evidence that the other driver was arrested and/or convicted of DUI can be helpful to a car accident claimant, but this evidence alone will not prove that intoxicated driving was the cause. In some cases, the unimpaired driver was either fully or partially responsible for causing the accident, which makes them liable.

In other words, one driver’s DUI charge doesn’t negate the other driver’s negligence. If you were involved in a car accident while driving intoxicated but believe the other driver was at fault, you can pursue compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. You should read this guide to better understand your rights and how you can recover maximum compensation for your injuries. Georgia’s DUI Law

Georgia’s DUI Law

Regardless of whether you cause an accident, driving while intoxicated puts other people at risk and can result in serious penalties. In Georgia, there are numerous laws related to DUI issues, but O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391 provides the criteria for determining whether a driver is “under the influence.”

Under this statute, it’s a criminal offense to drive or be in physical control of a vehicle if you:

  • Have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or higher,
  • Have a BAC of .04 percent or higher while driving a commercial vehicle,
  • Have a BAC of .02 percent or higher and are under 21,
  • Are under the influence of any alcohol, drug, or controlled substance, or
  • Have any amount of marijuana or other illegal drug in your blood or urine.

It’s important to note that drivers can still be charged with DUI even if their BAC is below the specified limit because they are considered “under the influence” whenever their use of alcohol or other substances makes it “less safe” for them to drive. O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391. You should also know that you can be convicted of DUI if your BAC meets the legal limit regardless of whether your driving is actually impaired.

If you’re convicted of DUI, a judge will impose jail time and/or fines based on the following statutory guidelines:

  • First offense: 10 days to 12 months in jail, a $300-$1,000 fine, and a minimum of 20 hours of community service
  • Second offense: 90 days to 12 months in jail, a $600-$1,000 fine, and a minimum of 30 days of community service
  • Third offense: 120 days to 12 months in jail, a $1,000-$5,000 fine, and a minimum of 30 days of community service

In addition, all DUI offenders are placed on 12 months of probation, less any time served in jail. Before probation, offenders must serve at least 24 hours in jail for a first offense, 72 hours for a second offense, and 15 days for a third offense. All offenders must also complete a drug and alcohol evaluation and any recommended treatment program and will have their driver’s license suspended.

If you were transporting a child, you could face additional charges of child endangerment. If certain aggravating factors are present (i.e., attempting to evade police, four or more DUIs in 10 years, or causing serious injury or death to another person), your DUI charge could even be elevated to a felony, which means more jail time and more severe penalties.

Given the serious consequences and potential for danger when driving drunk, you should never get behind the wheel of a car if you may be impaired. You should also understand that even if your impairment didn’t hurt someone or cause the accident, a DUI conviction can make it harder to prevail on a personal injury claim.

Understanding How Fault/Negligence Is Determined

It’s common knowledge that drunk driving causes many accidents because intoxication interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, act quickly, and make responsible decisions. However, sometimes an impaired driver is hit by another car through no fault of their own, which means the impaired driver is not responsible for causing the accident.

For example, suppose that a person had a few drinks at a party and was driving home. While driving, they were following the speed limit and not operating the vehicle in a reckless manner. Just as they were crossing an intersection, however, another driver speeds through a red light and hits their car. After the police officer arrives, the driver who was hit is charged with DUI because their BAC is above the legal limit. Based on evidence gathered at the scene, the police officer also determines that the driver who ran the red light was responsible for causing the accident.

In this situation, even though one driver was intoxicated and broke the law, the other driver made the mistakes that caused the crash—those mistakes establish liability. Because the nonimpaired driver was at fault, the intoxicated driver has the right to file a claim for damages against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

If the insurance carrier fails to offer full compensation for the claimant’s injuries, the claimant can file a lawsuit to recover damages. If the case goes to trial, the jury would render a verdict based on which driver was responsible—the victim’s impairment doesn’t affect the outcome if it didn’t cause the accident. How Comparative Negligence Works When One Driver Is Intoxicated

Though an intoxicated driver may not always act negligently, their impairment often plays some role in the accident. For example, even if a person hit you while driving recklessly, you may have been able to avoid the accident if you weren’t intoxicated. Because alcohol and drugs are known to dull your senses and can interfere with your ability to react quickly, intoxicated drivers may be found at least partially responsible for failing to avoid a collision or doing something else that contributed to it.

Georgia is a comparative negligence state, which means that juries can apportion each driver a percentage of fault for the accident. If you were at least 50 percent at fault, you cannot recover any compensation. If you were partially responsible but your percentage of fault is less than 50, the compensation you receive is reduced by that amount. For example, if your accident costs were $10,000 and you were 20 percent responsible, you can only recover $8,000 in compensation.

The insurance company may argue comparative negligence based on intoxication to reduce your compensation in a personal injury claim. Because a jury is more likely to find an intoxicated driver partially negligent even if the other driver was primarily responsible, it can be difficult to recover full compensation at trial. The At-Fault Driver’s Insurance Company Will Look for Any Way Out

Whenever an injury claim is filed, the at-fault driver’s insurance company looks for any reason to avoid paying fair compensation—even if that means blaming the victim for the accident. After you file a claim, the carrier will conduct its own investigation to determine liability and damages, and any mistake you’ve made can raise a red flag.

Being arrested for DUI is a major red flag that the carrier will try to use to its advantage, and it will dig deeper to find evidence supporting the argument that your impairment made you

negligent. This evidence may include statements you made to witnesses, the police officer, or the other driver admitting intoxication or driving mistakes. It can also include videos or third-party statements that show you behaving drunkenly or erratically.

To refute the carrier’s argument and prevail on your claim, it’s crucial that you collect evidence proving the other driver’s negligence caused the accident—not your intoxication. An experienced attorney can locate this crucial evidence for you and knows how to present the strongest possible case during settlement negotiations.

The Millar Law Firm Can Help

If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, you should speak to an experienced personal injury attorney about any questions you may have about your claim. Our lawyers know how to recover maximum compensation for injuries regardless of the circumstances. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

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