Many of our cases involve clients who have been injured by drunk drivers, or drivers under the influence of drugs. Despite decades of public service messages discouraging drivers from driving when they are under the influence of alcohol, DUI drivers continue to drive, often with tragic results.
John Hadden has handled many Georgia personal injury cases involving DUI drivers. Often, these cases settle for policy limits because the insurance company faces the possibility of a bad faith claim from its own insured/customer for failing to settle a claim.
Personal injury cases in Georgia involving DUIs may be different from other cases. Here's why:
DUI law in Georgia - Criminal law
Official Code of Georgia, Annotated (OCGA) § 40-6-391 establishes the law for drunk drivers, which also establishes rules for drivers under the influence of certain drugs:
A person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any moving vehicle while:
(1) Under the influence of alcohol to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive;
(2) Under the influence of any drug to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive;
(3) Under the intentional influence of any glue, aerosol, or other toxic vapor to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive;
(4) Under the combined influence of any two or more of the substances specified in paragraphs (1) through (3) of this subsection to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive;
(5) The person's alcohol concentration is 0.08 grams or more at any time within three hours after such driving or being in actual physical control from alcohol consumed before such driving or being in actual physical control ended; or
(6) Subject to the provisions of subsection (b) of this Code section, there is any amount of marijuana or a controlled substance, as defined in Code Section 16-13-21, present in the person's blood or urine, or both, including the metabolites and derivatives of each or both without regard to whether or not any alcohol is present in the person's breath or blood.
Georgia DUI law is complex and there are many criminal defense lawyers specializing in helping drunk drivers in criminal matters. Civil and criminal law are separate, but in this case, the outcome of the criminal prosecution for drunk driving may have a significant impact on the civil case.
DUI law in Georgia - Personal injury cases and car accidents
If you are injured by a drunk driver, you may have personal injury damages claims beyond those available to those injured by other drivers. Drunk drivers may be liable for punitive damages under OCGA § 51-12-5.1. In fact, Georgia provides a special rule for personal injury cases involving drunk drivers: usually, punitive damages claims are limited to $250,000. But if drugs or alcohol are involved - such as in a DUI case - the $250,000 limit isn't applicable.
Punitive damages involving drugs or alcohol may also be non-dischargeable under federal bankruptcy rules and laws. Federal law (11 U.S.C. § 523) states that
A discharge under section 727, 1141, 1228(a), 1228(b), or 1328(b) of this title does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt
(9) for death or personal injury caused by the debtor's operation of a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft if such operation was unlawful because the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance;
Therefore, even if there if not enough insurance available to cover injuries caused by a drunk driver, you (or any injured person) may be able to pursue the at-fault driver. In fact, due to the punitive damages available in a Georgia car accident involving a drunk driver, you may well have a significant recovery against a DUI/drunk driver who causes an injury.