How DUI Injury Claims Work When The Drunk Driver Is a Minor

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Key Points:

  • Under-the-influence minors are responsible for many accidents in Georgia each year.
  • Even if a minor is not convicted of a DUI, it does not mean that the injured party cannot successfully prove negligence against the minor driver in a civil case.
  • In certain circumstances, businesses, social hosts, and parents may also be held liable in a DUI accident case against a minor.
  • A personal injury attorney can provide a free consultation to review your case and explain the best way to proceed.

Despite significant state funding and other resources to decrease or eliminate drunk driving in Georgia, driving under the influence (DUI) accidents are still occurring at an alarming rate, particularly with underage drivers.

Sadly, underage drinking continues to be a problem in this state. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 7.05 million young Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 (just under 20% of people in that age group) report current alcohol use. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have identified driving while intoxicated as the leading cause of death for teens.

Minors under the influence are responsible for many accidents in Georgia each year. In addition to the unfortunate injuries and fatalities they cause, DUIs come with serious and expensive legal consequences.

It is essential to understand the ramifications of a DUI injury claim when a minor is the drunk driver.

The Importance of Negligent Driving in These Types of Cases

There are significant differences between the criminal conviction of a minor for driving under the influence and a minor being the subject of a civil lawsuit for injuries resulting from a DUI accident.

A minor may be charged criminally based on the amount of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) detected in their system. However, for an injured party to successfully sue a minor in a civil action and recover damages, negligence on the part of the minor must be proven. The fact that the minor was legally intoxicated while driving is not always sufficient enough to hold that minor responsible for injuries and damages you sustsceneained in the accident.

To recover damages in a Georgia DUI injury case against a minor, the three elements of negligence must be proven:

  1. The minor must have owed the injured party a duty of care. In the case of a motor vehicle collision, the duty of care from one driver to another would be to obey all traffic laws, including the law against driving while under the influence.
  2. The minor breached the duty of care. In a DUI injury accident, this breach could be proven by the minor’s criminal conviction for the DUI. Evidence of the minor’s refusal to submit to a blood or breathalyzer test following the accident may also be evidence of a breach of the duty of care to the injured party. However, it is important to note that the lack of a DUI conviction does not mean that the injured party cannot successfully maintain a case for negligence against the minor driver. The burden of proof in a criminal case is much higher than in a civil negligence case, so negligence may still be proven without a criminal conviction.
  3. The breach of the duty of care caused the accident, which resulted in damages. Damages may include medical expenses, lost wages, and even a monetary award for the pain and suffering of the injured party due to the trauma of the accident.
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The Impact of Comparative Negligence Law on the Injured Party’s Claim for Damages

A plaintiff’s claim for damages resulting from a DUI accident with a minor may be impacted by the injured party’s own actions in the collision.

Georgia is considered a “modified comparative negligence” state pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 51-11-7. This means that if the injured party (plaintiff) could have used “ordinary care” to avoid the accident caused by the defendant driver’s negligence, but did not, then the plaintiff may not be entitled to recover damages.

In Georgia, if a judge or jury determines that the plaintiff is less than 50% responsible for the accident, they may still recover partial damages based on their respective contribution to the accident. If an injured plaintiff is 50% or more responsible for the accident, they are barred from any recovery.

Generally, an insurance company will determine who is responsible for the accident. Based on that assessment, it will decide to pay all or part of the injured party’s damages or deny the claim completely. Either party, the minor driver or the injured person, may hire a car accident attorney who can challenge the insurance company’s decision and, if necessary, take the case to trial where a judge or jury will make the final determination of fault.

The Trail of Negligence That Comes with Minors Driving Under the Influence

When insurance companies are assessing who is at fault for a DUI injury accident, they may seek to place liability on parties other than their insured minor driver to avoid paying out for the personal injury claim.

The company may question the minor driver about where they were served the alcohol and whether the person providing or selling it was aware of the minor’s age.

For example, if the alcohol was served at a house party, “social host” liability may come into play.

What If the Alcohol Was Served to the Minor at a House Party?

In an effort to combat underage drinking, Georgia has enacted laws that assign responsibility to adults who allow minors to drink alcohol at social gatherings. These laws mean adult hosts may be held civilly accountable for damages caused by underage drinkers consuming alcohol in the adult’s home.

Under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40, a person who willfully and unlawfully sells or serves alcohol to an underage person knowing that person may soon be driving a motor vehicle may be liable for injuries or damages caused by the intoxicated minor, including damages sustained in a motor vehicle accident. This can include a parent who gave alcohol to their minor child knowing the child may later operate a car. These laws do not apply to licensed establishments, such as restaurants, bars, and liquor stores, which are covered by other laws.

If a homeowner or other family member is held liable under this law, their homeowner’s insurance might not cover the damages. Property insurance will generally cover negligent acts of the homeowner or their child, but because “knowingly and willfully” serving alcohol to a minor is considered an intentional act, the insurance company may seek to deny coverage.

What If the Alcohol Was Served to the Minor at a Bar or Nightclub?

Georgia’s drunk driving laws allow for recovery from third parties in DUI injury accident lawsuits. The “dram shop” law creates liability for businesses, such as bars and nightclubs, that willingly sell alcohol to an underage person knowing they may soon drive. “Dram” refers to a small amount of alcohol, and concert venues, grocery stores, and any other business that sells alcohol may be considered a dram shop.

Both the server of the alcohol and the business owner may be held responsible for damages caused by the intoxicated minor’s motor vehicle accident. However, it should be noted that the minor drunk driver may not pursue a dram shop claim against the business that served them the alcohol; only other injured parties in the accident may seek to hold the business responsible.

What Is the Family Purpose Doctrine and How Can It Apply to a DUI Minor Accident Case?

Under Georgia law, the “family purpose doctrine” may apply when a minor is involved in a DUI accident while driving the family vehicle on behalf of the family. O.C.G.A. §51-2-2 states that “every person shall be liable for torts committed by his wife, his child, or his servant by his command or in the prosecution and within the scope of his business, whether the same are committed by negligence or voluntarily.”

Georgia courts have defined family purpose liability in this context to include the responsibility of a parent who owns and maintains a vehicle as a family car when that parent allows the minor child to drive the car for a “family purpose” and the minor gets into an accident, including when driving under the influence.

Family purpose has been interpreted very broadly in Georgia and can sometimes include when the child uses the car for personal reasons, such as going to the grocery store. If the parent gave consent and the vehicle was used within the scope of what they allowed their child to use the car for, the family purpose doctrine may apply.

If a parent is held liable under this doctrine, they may have coverage for the damages their child caused in the accident under their auto insurance policy, homeowner’s insurance, or umbrella policy. If the damages awarded to the injured party exceed the limits of the parent’s coverage, they could be personally responsible to pay a portion of the damages from their own assets.

What Evidence Is Used to Prove That Alcohol Was Responsible for an Injury Accident?

In negotiations with the insurance company regarding liability, or when either party seeks a formal trial of the case, several different types of evidence may be utilized to prove the respective fault of each person involved in the accident.

Photographs of the accident scene, police reports, statements made by the drivers at the scene, and eyewitness accounts are all permissible forms of evidence in a DUI injury case. Additionally, either party may hire an accident reconstructionist to recreate the scene of the accident in an effort to determine precisely how and why the accident occurred. A reconstructionist may consider things, such as weather conditions, road obstructions, and the speed of the respective vehicles when assessing the cause of, and, ultimately, the fault for, the collision.

Other Georgia Laws That Can Impact a DUI Minor Injury Accident

Beer in a car on a steering wheel

When pursuing a DUI injury claim when a minor was the intoxicated driver, there are several other Georgia laws to consider.

For drivers over age 21, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher. However, for underage drivers, that threshold is significantly lower, at .02. Depending on the individual, even one glass of beer, wine, or liquor may cause their BAC to exceed this limit. The theory behind these “zero-tolerance” laws is that because it is illegal for a minor to be drinking alcohol, they should not be permitted to drive with any alcohol in their system.

O.C.G.A. § 51-1-18 gives a custodial parent the right to file a case against any person who sells or provides alcohol to their underage child for that child’s use without the parent’s permission.

The state of Georgia has a unique program called the Victim Compensation Program. A person who is the victim of injuries caused by a DUI accident may apply with the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for financial assistance for the following:

  • Medical expenses: up to $15,000
  • Funeral expenses: up to $6,000
  • Counseling expenses: up to $3,000
  • Economic support expenses: up to $10,000
  • Crime scene sanitization: up to $1,500

Under O.C.G.A. §17-15-1, there is also a process by which a family member or loved one may seek construction of a memorial sign for the victim of a fatal DUI accident.

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