Liability in Teen Drunk Driving Accidents

Drunk Drivers Responsible for One-Third of all Traffic Fatalities

In 2008, more than 11,500 people lost their lives in drunk driving accidents. In Pennsylvania alone, there were 12,752 alcohol-related crashes, resulting in 534 lost lives. Based on these numbers, 1.5 people are killed and another 26 are injured on any given day in drunk driving accidents on Pennsylvania roadways.

Young drivers are more likely to drive intoxicated than any other age group, particularly drivers ages 21 to 34. But equally frightening is the high incidence of drunk driving accidents among underage drivers. Statistics have shown that:

  • Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among 16 to 20-year- olds
  • 60 percent of teen deaths in car accidents are alcohol-related
  • In Pennsylvania in 2008, 22 percent of deaths among 16 to 20-year-olds in motor vehicle accidents involved alcohol

There are many reasons why teens drive drunk, including peer pressure, a feeling of invincibility and immaturity. It is well documented that young drivers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors while driving, such as speeding, driving without wearing a seatbelt and talking on cell phones. Young drivers also are less likely to consider the possible consequences of their actions, including what will happen if they are responsible for injuring or killing someone in a drunk driving crash.

Your Legal Options Following a Drunk Driving Accident

Civil Claims against the Driver

Teens who drive drunk and injure others face more than just criminal penalties for their negligent acts. The harmed victims also have the right to seek civil damages against the drunk teen driver for their losses, which may include:

  • Past, present and future medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disfigurement and disability
  • Repair costs for any damage to their vehicles or other property

Under Pennsylvania law, victims of drunk driving accidents also may be entitled to punitive damages in certain cases.

Drunk drivers are responsible not only for any harm they cause drivers and occupants in other vehicles, but also for any harm they may cause passengers in their own vehicles. In 2008, 90 percent of passengers who died in drunk driving accidents in Pennsylvania were riding with a drunk driver.

Generally, to recover damages from a drunk driver in a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff will need to prove that the drunk driver acted negligently and that these negligent acts were the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Victims of drunk driving accidents should not wait until any criminal case against the drunk driver is completed prior to filing a civil claim, but in some cases, an attorney may choose to do so if it will be beneficial. If the drunk driver died as a result of the accident, those who were injured in the accident still can bring a legal action against the deceased driver’s estate to recover for their losses.

Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

Families who have lost loved ones in drunk driving accidents have the right to bring a wrongful death claim against the drunk driver. In Pennsylvania, the wrongful death claim generally is brought by the personal representative of the accident victim on behalf of the surviving family members.

Some of the types of compensation available in wrongful death actions include funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, lost financial contribution, and loss of society and companionship.

In addition, the decedent’s estate is entitled to recover damages in the nature of a survival claim including the decedent’s pain and suffering and lost income less personal maintenance expenses.

Third Party Liability

In some cases, additional parties besides the drunk driver may share responsibility for the accident. For example, if a bartender or waitress continued to serve alcohol to the driver, even though he or she was visibly intoxicated, then the bar, restaurant or other establishment that furnished the alcohol may be held liable in a dram shop action.

Conclusion

It is estimated that two out of every five Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related accident at some point during their lifetime. Whether the drunk driver is a reckless teenager or irresponsible adult, the victim of the accident should not be left uncompensated for his or her injuries.

For more information on filing a civil claim against a drunk driver, contact the attorneys at Berger and Green today.

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