Drunk Driving Injury Attorneys in Columbia, SC
Each year, hundreds of individuals are killed in drunk driving accidents in South Carolina. The Palmetto State has consistently ranked among the worst states in the nation for DUI-related fatalities, and according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 40% of all traffic fatalities in the state are caused by chemical impairment.
It has been well-known for a long time that being under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, and some prescription drugs causes motorists to make poor driving decisions. Alcohol can make a driver tired and even cause them to fall asleep at the wheel. It can also have the opposite affect by putting drivers into a mindset which causes them to drive recklessly and without regard for the rules of the road and the safety of others. Despite decades of high-profile public awareness campaigns, far too many individuals still choose to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink.
Driving while under the influence (DUI) is a serious criminal offense in South Carolina as it is in all other states. Those who are convicted for DUI can face very harsh consequences, which may include heavy fines, jail time, and loss of driving privileges. But the criminal penalties for DUI do nothing to provide restitution for those who are injured in drunk driving accidents through no fault of their own. A separate civil action is needed to recover the just compensation injury victims are entitled to.
If you or a loved one suffered injury at the hands of a drunk driver, you need skilled legal counsel by your side advocating aggressively for your rights and interests. Before you speak to anyone from the insurance company, call the experienced auto accident lawyers at Peake & Fowler to discuss your legal rights and options.
For more than two decades, Peake & Fowler has represented individuals who have been injured in motor vehicle accidents in South Carolina. Our attorneys have extensive knowledge of this area of the law, and we have a successful track record with even the most complex cases. We work closely with our clients, putting our in-depth experience to work to provide strong guidance and moral support during some of the most difficult circumstances they will ever face.
Drunk Driving Laws in South Carolina
The state of South Carolina prohibits individuals from driving or physically controlling a vehicle if they are materially and appreciably impaired based on their blood alcohol concentration (BAC), behavior, or a combination of the two.
The BAC legal limits for DUI in South Carolina are:
- .08 for adults over the age of 21 who are operating a non-commercial vehicle;
- .04 for adults over the age of 21 who are operating a commercial vehicle;
- .02 for drivers who are under the age of 21.
If the driver is convicted for driving drunk at the time of the accident, it will make it easier for injury victims to recover compensation. However, even if a driver is not technically guilty of DUI, they can still be held liable for damages resulting from an accident they caused if it can be shown that the driver was chemically impaired at the time of the accident, and that this impairment resulted in the subsequent injuries.
There may be other potential legal avenues for recovering compensation after a drunk driving accident as well. While South Carolina does not have official dram shop laws on the books, courts have held that establishments who serve alcohol to a drunk driver (who later causes an accident) can be held liable if:
- The establishment serves alcohol to a minor who is under the age of 21; or
- The establishment served alcohol to any individual who is already visibly intoxicated.
There may also be the potential for a claim under the legal theory of social host liability. This may be applicable if alcohol was provided to a minor under the age of 21 at a party or event. Finally, it may be possible to file a claim against a vehicle owner under the legal theory of negligent entrustment if the owner knowingly allows a person who is intoxicated or likely to become intoxicated to drive the vehicle.
Damages Available from South Carolina Drunk Driving Accident Claims
As mentioned, a criminal conviction for DUI does not provide for restitution to be paid to victims who are injured in drunk driving accidents. Compensation for these losses must be recovered through a separate civil claim. In many instances, a monetary settlement is negotiated with the insurance company for the responsible party. However, if the other side is not willing to a reasonable, it may be necessary to pursue full damages through litigation.
Those who suffer injury because of the negligent or reckless actions of a drunk driver are entitled to compensation not only for direct monetary losses such as medical bills, lost wages, and loss of future earning capacity, but also for more intangible losses such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and diminished quality of life.
In rarer cases, punitive damages may also be awarded not as compensation to the victim, but as punishment to the responsible party. Punitive damages are difficult to obtain in a standard auto accident case, but in the case of a drunk driving accident, they may be more attainable. In South Carolina, punitive damages are usually capped at three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater. However, if you are able to prove that the defendant was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident, the cap on punitive damages is removed.
Steps to Take After Being Hit by a Drunk Driver
If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, we are here to help. Call Peake & Fowler at 803-788-4370 to schedule a consultation. However, before that, below are the steps that you should take immediately after being hit by a drunk driver:
1. Call 911
First, call 911 to report the accident. Specify where you are, how many vehicles are involved, and any injuries you notice. Stay on the line with the operator until help arrives. If anyone is injured, don’t let them move until the ambulance arrives. Moving an injured person can actually cause them more harm than good.
2. Remain Calm
When you notice that the other driver seems impaired, it’s incredibly hard to stay calm. You might feel like you need to yell at them, make them see the reality of what they’ve done, or take out your anger on them. None of this will help, and in fact, it could actually hurt you.
3. Gather Evidence
Instead of losing your temper at the negligent driver, use your time to gather evidence. If the driver appears impaired, take note of what you notice. Do they have glassy eyes or rosy cheeks? Are they stumbling when they walk or laughing inappropriately? Do you smell alcohol wafting off of them? If you have a passenger with you, ask them to verify what you observe.
You also want to collect evidence from the crash scene. Take photos of the scene, and if possible, take video footage as well. Take photos from different distances and angles. Be sure to capture any damage to guardrails or other nearby property.
4. Seek Medical Attention
When the police arrive, you’ll want to give your statement and tell them your suspicions about the other person’s impairment. Consider exchanging contact and insurance information with the other party via the police officer, since the impaired driver may be in no condition to do so. From there, though, your priority is to seek medical attention. Adrenaline is released during a crash, and it masks pain. This may lead you to think that you are in better condition than you truly are.
Furthermore, some injuries are not immediately apparent. These injuries can quickly become fatal if not promptly treated. If you do not go to the hospital via ambulance, go to the doctor immediately after leaving the crash scene.
5. Contact an Attorney
Drunk driving accidents are multifaceted and complex. You may be entitled to compensation from the other party, and the criminal charges they may face can help you build a stronger case. However, you’ll still face the same challenges you face in any personal injury claim. Their insurance company is unlikely to offer a fair settlement immediately, and they many even deny their client’s impairment until they are provided with concrete proof.
Speak with an Experienced Columbia, SC Drunk Driving Accidents Lawyer
At Peake & Fowler, we know that being injured at the hands of a drunk driver can take a major physical, emotional, and financial toll on victims and their families, and we are here to help ensure that the legal process goes smoothly. We handle your entire injury claim from start to finish, taking care of all the complex legal tasks and fighting hard for every dollar of compensation you are entitled to. This allows you to focus on recovering from your injuries and getting your life back on track.
To schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office today at 803-788-4370. You may also message us through our web contact form or stop by our Columbia office in person at your convenience.
Peake & Fowler Law Firm, P.A., is located in Columbia, SC and serves clients in and around Newberry, Lexington, Sumter, Allendale, Orangeburg, St. Matthews, Bishopville, Florence, Blythewood, State Park, Eastover, Columbia, Elgin, Irmo, Hopkins, Ridgeway, Lugoff, Ballentine, West Columbia, Kershaw, Camden, Dusty Bend, and Richland County, Lexington County, Calhoun County, Orangeburg County, Sumter County, Kershaw County, Newberry County, Fairfield County, Lee County, Clarendon County and Florence County.