Like every other US state, New Jersey has enacted legislation prohibiting motorists from drunk driving. Unfortunately, too many drivers ignore these laws or believe that they’re in proper condition to operate a vehicle after consuming alcohol.
Their poor decisions put other motorists at risk of devastating accidents, many of which are even fatal. If you or a loved one was injured in a DUI crash, you do have rights as a victim.
At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, our team is committed to helping you navigate the complex claims process after being hurt in a DUI collision. Please contact our office to set up a free consultation today. We can tell you more about how a New Jersey drunk driving accident lawyer is a valuable asset in ensuring you get the compensation you deserve.
Statistics on Drunk Driving Accidents in New Jersey
According to the 2017 Fatal Motor Vehicle Crash Report prepared by the New Jersey State Police, there were 624 people killed in a total of 591 fatal car accidents across the state. Breaking down the data for DUI crashes reveals the disturbing frequency of these incidents:
- In 158 of the 591 collisions, driving while intoxicated was listed as a primary contributing factor;
- Almost one-quarter of drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for alcohol to some extent, ranging from .01 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to the legal limit of .08 percent BAC;
- Of the 86 drivers who consumed alcohol before a fatal crash, 77.9 percent had a BAC of .08 percent or higher; and,
- There were 174 victims killed in incidents involving drunk or drugged driving.
Penalties Enforced on Drunk Drivers Following an Accident
Drunk or drugged drivers face stiff penalties in New Jersey. Even when no accident happens and it was a driver’s first offense, they face punishments including:
- 12 hours to 30 days of jail time;
- Fees, fines, and surcharges that can add up to over $4,000;
- Mandatory substance abuse classes; and
- Loss of driving privileges for three months.
Repeat offenses add additional penalties and charges. For example, punishments for a third offense include:
- Six months of jail time;
- Fines, fees, and surcharges that can add up to over $6,500;
- License suspension for ten years;
- 90 days of community service;
- 12-48 hours of substance abuse classes; and
- A required ignition device when driving privileges are restored.
The punishments become much more severe if the DUI is connected to an accident that caused injury to anyone other than the driver. In these cases, police can file a separate charge known as an assault by auto. This offense is a felony conviction and carries a jail sentence of up to 5 years. If someone dies, a conviction for death by auto is possible and carries a sentence of up to 10 years, although the sentence can be longer if there are aggravating factors.
Serious Injuries are Common in DUI Accidents
When a driver is impaired by alcohol, his or her actions may be erratic, unpredictable, risky, and even reckless. A drunk motorist may ignore traffic and safety laws, speed, or weave in and of lanes. Intoxication has a profound impact on the ability to perceive roadway conditions and react to them to avoid a collision. In the worst-case scenarios, drunk drivers may even stray onto highway exit ramps, putting them in a wrong-way, head-on crash situation for oncoming traffic.
For these reasons, catastrophic injuries are common in DUI accidents. Victims often experienced such trauma as:
- Head injuries, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), concussion, skull fractures, and penetrating head injuries;
- Spinal cord damage, which could lead to various levels of paralysis based upon the location on the spine and whether the trauma is complete or incomplete;
- Neck injuries, such as a herniated or bulging disc, muscle strain, or whiplash;
- Damage to internal organs, including the heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys;
- Limb amputation, especially in high-speed DUI crashes;
- Bone fractures, lacerations, bruises, and soft tissue injuries; and,
- Many more.
A Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Will Fight for Your Rights
Regardless of the specific factors behind the DUI crash, these cases are typically based upon the legal concept of negligence, which applies in many types of personal injury accidents. In order to establish your right to compensation, you must prove four essential elements:
- You must show that the other driver had a legal duty to operate the vehicle safely;
- The responsible motorist breached this duty by engaging in unsafe conduct, specifically by driving drunk;
- The accident in which you were injured was directly caused by the drunk driver’s unsafe conduct behind the wheel; and,
- You sustained losses as a result of the crash.
Though these elements may seem straightforward, a drunk-driving collision is much more complicated. The responsible motorist’s intoxication may be evidence of negligence, but it doesn’t make your case a slam-dunk. It’s critical to retain an experienced DUI accident lawyer to assist with all four elements, which may require:
- Conducting a thorough investigation of all factors behind the collision;
- Collecting and analyzing your medical records to support your injury claim;
- Consulting with medical experts, accident reconstruction specialists, and economic analysts; and,
- Many other tasks associated with filing an injury claim after a drunk driving accident.
Get the Compensation You Deserve as a Victim of a DUI Accident
Legal counsel is crucial to proving your right to monetary damages after a drunk driving collision, but an attorney also plays a critical role in ensuring you receive the full amount of compensation you’re entitled to under New Jersey law. You may be able to recover economic damages, including the costs of medical treatment, lost wages, and amounts for property damage to your vehicle.
In addition, a lawyer can fight for your rights to non-economic damages, such as:
- Pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress;
- Lost quality of life;
- Losses affecting your personal relationships;
- Scarring and disfigurement; and,
- Many others.
Punitive Damages: You may qualify to recover punitive damages in a DUI accident case, which are amounts awarded as a form of punishment against the drunk driver. The key is whether that person’s actions were so outrageous, offensive, and demonstrated a reckless disregard for the safety of others. If your situation warrants it, your drunk driving lawyer may seek punitive damages.
How Much Is Your Case Worth?
The value of your case depends on several factors, including the severity of your injuries, the economic losses you suffered, and the severity of the drunk driver’s actions.
The severity of your injuries will determine how much you can recover for medical bills and lost wages. More devastating injuries often lead to higher payouts for medical bills and time spent away from work. Severe injuries will also lend credibility to claims for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and reduced quality of life.
Other economic losses will also play a role in determining the value of your case. A fair settlement should factor in the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle. The settlement should also include compensation for any other property damage to the drunk driver caused.
Finally, the severity of the drunk driver’s actions will determine if punitive damages are potentially available. If the driver showed a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others, the court could award punitive damages. Drunk driving alone does not rise to this standard.
The experienced New Jersey drunk driving accident lawyers at O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble can help you estimate the value of your case.
Limitations on Your Claim: There are two factors that may affect your right to compensation in a New Jersey drunk driving accident:
- Under New Jersey’s statute of limitations, you have two years after the incident to file a lawsuit in court. If you don’t sue before this time period expires, you’re prevented from recovering any monetary damages for your losses; and,
- New Jersey follows the rule of comparative negligence, which puts the spotlight on your conduct. If you were driving carelessly or recklessly, you may also be considered negligent in causing the crash. The rule operates to reduce your compensation by the percentage of fault attributed to your own actions.
Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances.
Trust a New Jersey Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer to Protect Your Interests
If you were hurt in a DUI accident and want to learn more about your rights, please contact O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble to schedule a no-cost consultation with an experienced attorney. You can call toll-free at 1-800-586-5817 to set up a meeting at any of our five New Jersey locations. We’re happy to explain how these cases work and provide helpful information about your legal remedies. Contact us online or call us at (908) 928-9200 or 1-800-586-5817.