How Auto Insurance Companies Pay for Georgia DUI Accidents

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Key Points:

  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company is responsible for paying accident costs, and the carrier cannot deny a claim or exclude coverage because the insured was driving drunk.
  • Even if the insurance company covers your claim, you will still be on the hook for certain expenses if you caused an accident while driving drunk.
  • When an at-fault driver was intoxicated, coverage becomes a more complicated matter because the sober victim may be entitled to punitive damages as well as compensatory.
  • After you make a valid settlement demand within the applicable policy limits, the insurance carrier has a duty to pay both compensatory and punitive damages in a DUI claim.
  • The insurance company will search for evidence that the victim was partially at fault for the DUI accident to reduce compensation under Georgia’s comparative negligence law.

If you are one of the many people who has been injured in a drunk driving accident, you should know how insurance companies pay compensation for DUI claims. First, be aware that no matter who was intoxicated, whichever driver was at fault for causing the accident is responsible for the damages. That means the at-fault driver’s insurance company must pay all the accident costs up to the limit specified in the policy.

Second, even when intoxication isn’t a factor, it can be difficult to negotiate an insurance settlement that fully covers your costs. When an at-fault driver was intoxicated, however, compensation becomes a more complicated matter because the victim may be entitled to punitive damages as well as typical accident costs. In addition, DUI cases often involve insurance coverage issues and pending criminal charges against the intoxicated driver.

Typical accident costs include both economic losses, such as vehicle damage, medical costs, and lost income, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering and diminished quality of life. Assuming you can prove your claim, the insurance company must pay you all these compensatory damages to make you whole after the accident.

Finally, most DUI injury cases involve more than compensatory damages—punitive damages are often awarded as well to punish the intoxicated driver. But knowing how much punitive damages you’re entitled to and getting the insurance company to pay them can be challenging for victims without legal representation. To negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance carrier, you need an experienced attorney who understands how to prove compensatory and punitive damages for your DUI claim.

The At-Fault Drunk Driver

If you were responsible for causing an accident while driving drunk, you’re probably wondering whether your insurance company will cover the costs and protect you against legal claims filed by injured parties. The following section addresses these issues and others you may encounter after a DUI collision.

Coverage for the Drunk Driver’s Damages

Even if you were driving drunk, your insurance company is still obligated to pay your costs under the terms of your policy when you cause an accident. If you were injured in the crash, your bodily injury coverage should include all doctor, hospital, and ambulance costs as well as lost income and pain and suffering.

All these costs should be covered up to the policy limit. In Georgia, the minimum auto insurance coverage required for bodily injury is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident, but your policy may have a limit well above these minimums. When you were the at-fault driver, your insurance company is required to exhaust your policy limit, if necessary, to settle claims.

If your car needs to be repaired or replaced, your property damage coverage should include those costs up to the policy limit. In Georgia, the minimum insurance coverage requirement for property damage is $25,000, but your policy may have a higher limit, and your carrier is required to pay up to that limit to cover your costs.

You should be aware that insurance companies often look for reasons to deny coverage for claims, and your carrier may try to argue that your policy excludes coverage for damages caused by drunk driving. Most insurance policies contain exclusions for “intentional acts,” so the carrier may assert that your decision to drive drunk was an intentional act.

However, while you may have intentionally driven drunk, that doesn’t prove that you intentionally caused an accident, and Georgia courts have held that insurance carriers cannot exclude coverage for drunk driving. That means there must be evidence of an intentional act beyond drunk driving, such as deliberately hitting the other car.

The insurance company will conduct a thorough investigation to find any evidence of an intentional act that would justify an exclusion of coverage, so you or your attorney should gather as much evidence as possible to prove it was an accident.

Expenses Placed on the Drunk Driver

Regardless of whether your insurance company covers your claim, you will still be on the hook for certain costs of a DUI accident if you were at fault. First, you will have to pay a deductible. The deductible is the amount you pay out of pocket for an accident before your insurance company pays the rest.

For example, if you file a claim for $3,000 and your deductible is $500, you pay $500 before your carrier covers the $2,500 balance. Not all types of auto insurance require a deductible and the amount varies by policy. For liability and uninsured motorist coverage, you don’t pay a deductible; for collision and comprehensive coverage, you do. That means you must pay a deductible to get your car fixed. Second, your insurance premiums will increase significantly if you’re convicted of DUI—even more so if you injure someone while driving drunk. In Georgia, carriers impose some of the stiffest insurance rate hikes in the country after a DUI accident, so you may have to shop around to find affordable coverage.

Third, if your accident costs exceed your policy limit or your insurance company successfully denies your claim, you’ll have to pay those expenses out of your own pocket. You may also be liable for the other driver’s costs, depending on the circumstances. For example, if your insurance company finds a way to deny coverage based on evidence of intentional misconduct, the victim can file a lawsuit to recover damages against you personally and the carrier is not required to defend you.

In addition, DUI accidents often involve severe injuries, and there is no limit on the punitive damages a jury may award the victim if the case goes to trial. Even though your insurance company is not allowed to exclude coverage for drunk driving, it is allowed to expressly exclude coverage for punitive damages in the policy. Punitive damages may be awarded if the at-fault driver exhibited “willful misconduct, fraud, wantonness, malice, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences.” O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b).

Georgia courts have consistently held that punitive damages can be awarded to punish drunk drivers, which means that you could have a large judgment entered against you. If your insurance policy excludes punitive damage coverage, you are responsible for paying those damages yourself. It’s also important to note that uninsured/underinsured motorist policies, which can help cover the costs of compensatory damages, usually don’t cover punitive damages.

Finally, you will have to pay a criminal fine if you’re convicted of DUI even if you didn’t cause an accident. For a first offense, the penalty is between $300 and $1,000, and the amount increases with each subsequent conviction.

Can Drunk Drivers Lose Their Insurance if Found Responsible for an Auto Accident?

If you’re convicted of DUI or cause an accident while driving drunk, your carrier may decide to cancel your auto insurance policy. Insurance companies are under no legal obligation to continue providing coverage and may drop you if you fall into a “high-risk” category. However, DUIs don’t always result in cancellation—your driving history and years of coverage will also be considered.

Even if your insurance carrier doesn’t cancel your coverage, it will certainly increase your premiums. If your insurance is cancelled, you may need to purchase coverage from a company that specializes in high-risk drivers because you’re not allowed to drive without insurance in Georgia.

The Sober Accident Victim

When you suffer injuries in a car accident because of another person’s negligence, you would normally file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier for your economic and noneconomic losses and make a settlement demand that includes proof of liability and damages. If the at-fault driver was drunk, however, you can likely recover a much bigger payout in the form of punitive damages but may face obstacles in getting full coverage from the insurance company. Coverage for the Sober Accident Victim’s Damages

In car accident claims, the at-fault driver’s insurance company is responsible for paying the costs. In DUI cases, the drunk driver is often to blame for causing the accident, but a DUI conviction doesn’t automatically mean the drunk driver was at fault. To prove your claim, you must show that the insured drove in a negligent manner that caused the crash, and you were injured as a result. If you can’t prove liability, the drunk driver’s insurance carrier won’t cover your damages.

Assuming you can prove liability, the at-fault drunk driver’s insurance carrier is required to pay for your medical costs, vehicle damage, and lost income as well as pain and suffering and diminished quality of life. Some of these expenses, such as medical costs and vehicle damage, may be easy to prove because you have bills to back your claim.

Other costs, such as lost income and diminished quality of life, may be harder to quantify. Because insurance companies always try to pay as little as possible for claims, you will need to gather evidence from multiple sources to prove you’re entitled to coverage for those types of expenses.

After you make a valid demand to settle the claim within the applicable policy limits, the insurance carrier has a duty to pay it. Keep in mind that the carrier isn’t required to accept a settlement demand that exceeds the policy limits.

The carrier is also not required to provide coverage if there is an enforceable exclusion in the policy that applies to the facts of your case. As discussed above, even though policies can’t exclude coverage for drunk driving, carriers sometimes argue the insured’s conduct was an intentional act that merits exclusion.

If the carrier successfully denies your claim based on an exclusion, you can seek coverage for your accident costs through your uninsured motorist policy and/or by filing a lawsuit against the driver.

Additional Compensation or Punitive Damages

If you were injured by a drunk driver, you may be entitled to coverage for additional damages. As discussed, most negligence cases only involve compensatory damages—but drunk driving is a type of misconduct that Georgia law punishes with uncapped punitive damages. That means you may recover far more compensation than the actual cost of the collision.

Some insurance policies specifically exclude coverage for punitive damages. If the at-fault driver’s policy contains such an exclusion, you can file an insurance claim for compensatory damages but will have to file a lawsuit against the driver to receive punitive damages. If you prevail on the lawsuit, the driver must pay the punitive damage award from their personal assets.

When the at-fault driver’s policy does not have an express exclusion, you can file a claim to recover both compensatory and punitive damages from the insurance company after a DUI accident. The carrier must act in good faith when determining whether it’s reasonable to accept a settlement demand for compensatory and punitive damages based on its investigation.

As with any claim, however, the insurance company is not required to accept a demand that exceeds the liability policy limit. If you provide clear proof of liability and damages that exceed the limit and the carrier refuses to exhaust the policy, a jury could find that the carrier acted in bad faith by denying your claim.

A bad faith claim arises from the carrier’s failure to protect its insured and is usually assigned to the victim after the verdict, but keep in mind that the carrier is not required to exhaust the limit in all DUI cases. For example, if there is a $100,000 policy limit and nominal compensatory damages (e.g., $1,000), an insurance company may pay $50,000 in punitive and $5,000 or less in compensatory.

In situations where the drunk driver caused severe injuries and the carrier acted in bad faith by refusing to exhaust the policy limit, a jury may punish the carrier with a verdict that far exceeds the limit.

Comparative Negligence and Finding Fault

When you file a claim, the insurance company will look for any reason to reduce compensation—especially when it’s facing a big payout after a DUI accident. That means the insurance adjuster will search for any mistakes you might have made that contributed to the crash. Remember that a negligence claim is based on proving who was at fault, and you could still be found responsible even if the other driver was intoxicated.

When the drunk driver was 100 percent at fault, their insurance company must pay all the costs. But Georgia is a comparative negligence state, which means that the drivers could share blame for the accident. That means if you were at least 50 percent at fault, you can’t recover compensation; if you were partially at fault, your compensation will be reduced by that percentage.

For example, if you were 20 percent at fault and your damages were $10,000, you could only recover $8,000 from the insurance company. Because carriers know that DUI accidents can be expensive for them if their insured is found 100 percent at fault, you may have to fight hard during settlement negotiations to prove you weren’t negligent.

Accident Victims Can Recover More in DUI Cases

Accident victims are often entitled to more compensation for a DUI claim, but insurance companies may avoid paying punitive damages unless they’re demanded by a lawyer. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages aren’t proven with bills and can be hard to calculate.

Without an experienced attorney handling your claim, you risk not receiving the maximum amount of compensation you deserve. Our lawyers have represented DUI car accident victims since 1993 and know how to negotiate with the insurance company. 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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