When you’re injured in a drunk driving accident, there’s no doubt who is liable for damages. You have every right to expect the irresponsible driver to cover all your expenses, and pay punitive damages, as well. While this is true in most of the country if you live in a state following the contributory negligence doctrine you may easily lose your right to recover.
Most states use the comparative negligence rule, simple or modified, except for Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington DC. If you live in one of these five states, reach out to experienced drunk driving accident attorneys as soon as possible after the crash.
What is the contributory negligence rule?
It’s as simple as it is brutal. If you were negligent in any way at the time of the accident, you don’t get a single cent no matter how badly you were injured.
Let’s say a drunk driver skipped the red light and T-boned your car. At high speed such a crash can be fatal, so you’re lucky to be alive although in pretty bad shape. When you file a personal injury claim, you will be shocked to hear they won’t give you anything because you were a bit over the speed limit. Not much, just 2 mph, no big deal.
The drunk driver may face criminal charges and even go to jail for the accident, but you don’t get any damages because your own negligence contributed to the accident.
Here’s another example. You had just picked up your son from daycare and he was crying in the backseat because he had a tummy ache. Naturally, you were trying to comfort him and checking on him in the mirror. You were driving safely when the drunk driver slammed into you. The accident was not your fault. Still, the insurance adjuster will claim you were obviously distracted by the kid and that’s negligence. Forget about damages!
What to do to protect your rights?
People living in a contributory negligence state need to be very careful what they say in the immediate aftermath of an accident.
Don’t offer any apology
Never ever say you’re sorry. This applies to any type of accident in the above-mentioned states, not only DUI crashes.
Don’t explain yourself
You don’t have to say anything about what you were doing in your car at the time of the crash. The drunk driver has clearly no right to hold you accountable in any way, but you should also be careful what you tell other people present at the crash scene. If the drunk driver is facing criminal charges, his attorneys will be talking to all witnesses to build their defense.
Don’t talk to the insurance guys
They’ll pretend to be sympathetic and ask a lot of questions. It’s a trick to get you talking. Even an innocent remark like “it was 9.26 when he hit me” can be used against you. The insurance adjuster will argue that you were not paying attention to the road since you were checking the time. Did you, perhaps, pick up your phone to do that? Were there any messages on the phone? Above all, don’t give any recorded statement to the insurance company.
Get a lawyer
Look up the best lawyers in your area specializing in car accidents. Set up a free consultation, tell them the whole story, and let them be in charge of any communication with the insurance company.