This legal resource and guide is provided by the Atlanta, Georgia drunk driving lawyers of The Millar Law Firm. Our attorneys specialize in car, truck and motorcycle accidents involving injuries caused by drunk drivers.
- If you were hit and injured by a drunk driver in Atlanta or anywhere in Georgia, you may be entitled to recover damages under civil law.
- The types of damages you may be entitled to recover include pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost pay, and punitive damages.
- Drunk drivers may be ordered to pay punitive damages to punish and deter them from driving under the influence in the future.
- The evidence you can present in a drunk driving accident case include medical bills, proof of lost income, law enforcement and expert witness testimony and character witnesses.
Here are some common evidence questions and examples relating to damages in DUI accident cases.
What Evidence is Needed to Prove Damages in a Georgia Drunk Driving Accident Case?
There are various types of damages evidence that can support your claims if you have suffered injuries caused by a drunk or drugged (intoxicated) driver in Georgia.
Medical records and billing
Even though it seems obvious that a drunk driver should pay your medical bills for an accident he or she caused, you must still gather all the necessary medical records and bills to prove your damages. Certified copies of your medical records should be obtained from all places you had medical care, such as the hospital emergency room and any doctors or clinics that treated you, after your time in the ER.
If you have pre-existing or underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or arthritis, medical records from before the accident may be used to show how your condition changed or was worsened by the crash.
Proof of lost income
A verification of lost income from your employer should be obtained. This can be a form or a letter signed by your employer stating your rate of pay and the number of days missed, or if you are self employed, business and tax records. An attorney or CPA can help you gather and prove your lost pay claim. If you will have extensive lost future pay, an economist may be used as well.
Expert witness testimony
Your doctors and other expert witnesses may be used to explain your injuries to the insurance company, and if your case goes to trial, to a Jury. Expert witness testimony from doctors, wound care specialists, pain management specialists, physical therapists or other professionals can help prove your pain and suffering and any physical limitations you may have sustained or will permanently suffer from.
Vocational rehabilitation experts and economists may testify in serious cases, to provide evidence of future lost mobility and income.
Character witnesses for proof of pain and suffering
In cases of serious injury, where you would like to prove a loss of mobility or quality of life, witnesses whom the victim has known for at least several years may be called to testify that a victim can no longer do certain everyday tasks, such as go to the grocery store without assistance or engage in sports or other activities.
In Georgia, a driver can be civilly “punished” for causing an accident due to driving drunk, high or impaired. Punitive damages are civil damages awarded in addition to regular (compensatory) damages allowed to punish or deter (make an example of) the driver so that he or she and others will not continue to drink and drive. These damages can be awarded on top of your other damages, and must be proven to the higher standard of “clear and convincing” evidence of willful misconduct or conscious indifference to consequences. O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1(g)
In Georgia, proof that the drunk driver was convicted of DUI is usually sufficient to establish the grounds for an award of punitive damages, but other circumstances may carry this burden as well.
For example, if the at-fault driver was driving recklessly, racing, driving with a known mechanical defect, or was speeding excessively, Georgia’s courts have allowed punitive damages to be awarded.
In some cases, punitive damages may even be available if one drunk person negligently entrusts another intoxicated person to drive. For example, in a recent Georgia case, the Court of Appeals found that where two cousins were intoxicated and one gave the other his car keys and asked him to drive, knowing that the driver was drunk and did not have a license, punitive damages were available against both cousins, as active-tortfeasors under Georgia law.
Can I Be Compensated for Injuries Caused by a Drunk Driver If I Had Pre-Existing Conditions?
Yes. Under Georgia law, if a victim has a pre-existing condition that has been made worse by (aggravated by) an accident, the negligent (at-fault) party is still responsible for the damage caused. Careful documentation, medical records and expert medical testimony can all play a critical part in proving that the accident worsened your pre-existing condition.
How Do I Prove the At-Fault Driver Was Drunk?
Most often, the police report will document an officer’s suspicion that the driver was drunk. If the driver failed or refused a breathalyzer, this is usually documented in the police report. The police report itself, however, is not evidence of drunk driving.
It is important to follow the drunk driver’s court case. If the at-fault driver pleads guilty to DUI, in Georgia this is a legal admission of drunk driving. A certified copy of the driver’s ticket, court file, and plea should be obtained as soon as those items are available, once the criminal prosecution for driving under the influence ends.
Can Past Driving Records Be Used as Evidence in a Drunk Driving Accident Claim or Lawsuit?
If it can be proved that a drunk driver has previously driven while intoxicated or that he or she has prior DUI convictions or cases, this information could be admissible as to punitive damages. Punitive damages are additional compensation charges that are used as a way to punish the person for extremely negligent behavior and deter them from doing it again.
It is not uncommon for defendants who have past or multiple DUI convictions to be hit with much larger Verdicts.
How Do I Find Out About a Person’s Driving Record?
It can be difficult to do this without an attorney or lawsuit. Although websites may claim to provide access to other people’s driving records, these sites are often incomplete or wildly inaccurate.
Most good personal injury lawyers will investigate the at-fault driver’s history through public records while building your case. However, sometimes a lawsuit must be filed before the other party’s driving record becomes fully discoverable.
Can Georgia Bars or Other Businesses Be Held Liable for DUI Accidents?
Bars, restaurants, convenience stores and other businesses that serve alcohol to a minor or a clearly-intoxicated individual who then causes harm to another can, in some circumstances, be held responsible under the Georgia Dram Shop Act.
In Georgia, a business can be held liable for over-serving or negligently selling alcohol if it can be established that:
- The seller knowingly furnished alcoholic beverages to a person who was noticeably intoxicated or to a minor (person under age 21);
- The seller did so while knowing the person would soon be driving; and
- The seller’s act of furnishing the alcohol proximately caused your injuries.
What Happens When a Business Tries to Destroy Evidence Relating to an Intoxicated Customer?
Although there are many ways in which evidence can be destroyed, it is not uncommon in Georgia Dram Shop Act cases for a bar or restaurant to attempt to destroy evidence by deleting or recording over video surveillance footage. This is especially common if the victim has not retained an attorney who swiftly (within days) sends the bar or restaurant a request to preserve any video taken before the wreck.
If a civil defendant is proven to have destroyed evidence, Georgia has a “spoliation” rule, creating a presumption that the evidence would have been harmful to the person or company who failed to preserve or destroyed the evidence.
Why Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Drunk or Drugged Driver Accident Claim?
An accident caused by a drunk driver seems like a slam dunk. And, in some respects it may be. But, even if the facts and circumstances are clear to you, the insurance adjuster for the at-fault drunk is, in most cases, not going to offer you as much money as he or she would to someone represented by an attorney.
Let’s examine why this is true. If you are not represented by an attorney, an insurance adjuster will view you and your case as much less of a financial threat to the insurance company. This is because the adjuster knows that you are very unlikely to file a lawsuit, and even if you do file suit, you would be mismatched in taking on the insurance company’s lawyer yourself.
Hiring a car accident attorney to represent you in an accident caused by a high or drunk driver raises the stakes considerably for the insurance company. Now there is a threat you will file a lawsuit and ask a Jury for an award, not only of damages for your medical bills and pain and suffering but for punitive damages on top of everything else. Merely retaining a personal injury lawyer, when the negligent driver was intoxicated, virtually assures a larger settlement offer will be made by the insurance company.
Receive a Free Case Evaluation
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident caused by a drunk driver, hiring a lawyer will level the playing field with the insurance company.
At The Millar Law Firm, we provide free no-risk consultations for all personal injury questions and cases. This allows you to get to know us, and decide if we are the right fit for your case. We will help you evaluate your options so you can make an informed decision for you and your family.
I would highly recommend this firm and staff to everyone, they were great with my case.