Fort Lauderdale is a popular destination for spring breakers. Alcohol is almost always involved in the fun, whether it’s on the beach, at restaurants, or in local clubs and bars. While some bring a designated driver, many do not. Many of the visitors who drink without a designated driver get out on the crowded roads on their way home or to the next bar. Some make it without causing a wreck, but many do not—and they often injure or kill other innocent people who just wanted to spend an evening out with their family.
Last year, police arrested 2,549 people for driving under the influence in Broward County. The year before, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 10,142 people lost their lives because of someone else who was driving under the influence. Every day, according to the NHTSA, 28 people die in drunk driving wrecks.
How Alcohol Affects a Person’s Ability to Drive
While not everyone feels the effects of that first drink, the effects are there. According to the NHTSA, a person can have a blood alcohol level as low as 0.02 and experience loss of judgment, altered mood, artificial relaxation, and a slight increase in body temperature. Just this small amount of alcohol causes a person to lose the ability to accurately follow a moving target and decreases a person’s ability to do two tasks simultaneously, such as watching the road and keeping the vehicle in their designated travel lane.
At a blood alcohol level of 0.05, the average person’s behavior becomes exaggerated. The person might lose a certain amount of muscle control, be less alert, experience impaired judgment, feel “good,” and lose some of their inhibitions. A driver’s coordination suffers, which means that the driver cannot properly respond to unexpected situations on the road and may have difficulty steering. Tracking moving objects, such as another vehicle on the road, becomes even more difficult.
By the time a driver reaches 0.08 blood alcohol level, they have poor muscle coordination, which affects their reaction time, speech, vision, and balance. The driver’s judgment becomes poor and their memory and reasoning become impaired. This affects driving because the drunk driver cannot properly process information, cannot properly control the speed of the vehicle, and often cannot comprehend signals, such as a red light.
By the time a drunk driver hits 0.10 blood alcohol level, it’s difficult to stay in their travel lane, and the driver probably cannot brake properly. At a 0.15 blood alcohol level, the drunk driver loses substantial control of the vehicle and can no longer properly process visual and auditory information.
Consequences of Driving Under the Influence
A person who drives under the influence can suffer serious consequences. First, they will most likely face criminal charges. Secondly, if the drunk driver causes an accident, injures someone, or kills someone, the injured person or the family of the person who lost their life in the drunk driving accident can sue the driver for damages. While the insurance company will pay for some of the costs associated with accident-related damages, insurance policies have limits. If the injured person has suffered more damages than their own insurance can cover, they can sue the drunk driver for those additional damages.
For a first offense, a driver faces up to $1,000 in fines or, if they had a minor in the vehicle, up to $2,000. Furthermore, if the driver’s blood-alcohol level was 0.15 or higher, they could face a fine of up to $2,000 for a first offense. The drunk driver could also be sentenced to up to six months imprisonment, or nine months if a minor was in the vehicle or the driver’s blood-alcohol level was 0.15 or higher.
For a second offense, the driver faces up to $2,000 in fines or $4,000 if a minor was in the vehicle or the driver’s blood-alcohol level was 0.15 or higher. The drunk driver could also be sentenced to imprisonment for up to nine months or 12 months if a minor was in the vehicle or the driver’s blood-alcohol level was 0.15 or higher.
A third conviction results in fines of up to $5,000. While the fines are the same for a third conviction regardless of how long it has been since the second conviction, the jail time is not. If the driver’s third conviction is within 10 years of the second, jail time is a 30-day mandatory sentence with at least 48 hours of that being consecutive. If the third offense is 10 years after the second conviction, the drunk driver could receive up to 12 months in jail.
A fourth conviction comes with a minimum fine of $2,000, and if the driver had a minor in the vehicle or had a 0.15 blood alcohol level or higher, a minimum fine of $4,000. A fourth conviction also carries jail time of up to five years.
Impoundment or Immobilization
In addition to fines and jail time, the state can also impound or immobilize the drunk driver’s vehicle for 10 days upon the first conviction, 30 days upon a second conviction if it is within 5 years of a prior conviction, and 90 days if a third conviction is within 10 years of a prior conviction. Impoundment or immobilization cannot be concurrent with jail time.
These are not the only punishments a drunk driver could face. Florida laws provide for additional penalties under certain circumstances.
After a Drunk Driving Accident
If a drunk driver hits you, what you should do next depends on the extent of your injuries.
If you can move around without injuring yourself further, you might:
- Call first responders.
- Check on others involved in the accident, preferably while you are on the phone with first responders, so that you can describe their condition. That way, the dispatcher knows whether to dispatch one or more ambulances.
- Obtain from other drivers involved in the accident: Contact information, vehicle registration information, and insurance information.
- Obtain contact information from any witnesses to the accident, including passengers in the vehicles involved.
- Take photos of the accident scene from all angles. Include close-ups of the damage to your vehicle.
- Take photos of any damage done to roads and property, including skid marks, poles, mailboxes, and fences that suffered damage, and any other property damage.
- Do not speak to others about the accident. You could inadvertently say something they could use against you to put the blame at your feet.
- Be sure to let the emergency medical technicians check you out at the scene, even if you think your injuries are minor. Certain injuries take some time to manifest symptoms.
As soon as the police release you from the scene, get medical attention. The symptoms of some injuries might show up hours or even days later. Let the medical personnel who are treating you know that you were in an accident and need a complete checkup, including a check for head injuries and internal injuries.
Once you are home, contact a drunk driving accident lawyer to schedule a free case evaluation.
Contacting the Insurance Companies
Because most insurance companies give you just a few days—usually 30 or less—to file a claim, you should call your insurance company and the other drivers’ insurance companies to let them know that you will be starting a claim.
When you contact any insurance company, even your own, give the representative only your name and contact information, policy number, date and location of the accident, and your attorney’s contact information.
The insurance representative will most likely ask you questions about the accident. Just refer them to your attorney. Because insurance companies are in business to make money, they’re not going to want to pay your claim. One of the tricks they play is to get you to talk about the accident, then twist your words in an attempt to deny your claim—or at least make a low-ball settlement offer. No matter how persistent the representative is, continue referring the insurance company to your drunk driving accident attorney.
Never make the mistake of thinking your own insurance company is on your side. The insurance company doesn’t care about you—it only cares about how much money it will lose when it pays your claim. Insurance companies have their own attorneys. Let your attorney speak with them on your behalf. A drunk driving wreck lawyer is experienced in dealing with insurance companies and knows the tricks they try to play to deny claims.
Drunk Driving Accident Injuries
The injuries people suffer in drunk driving accidents vary widely, depending on the circumstances of the accident.
Common injuries include:
- Cuts, scrapes, bruises, and bumps.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Road rash.
- Amputation of a limb or digit, either during the accident or after the accident.
Victims can also suffer secondary injuries. Open wounds can become infected, whether they are wounds from the accident or a surgery to correct an accident injury. Victims can also develop psychological issues if the accident was traumatic or if accident injuries take a long time to heal or cause long-term or permanent disabilities. Victims can suffer from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The defendant is responsible for these types of injuries, as well as the physical injuries the victims suffered directly from the wreck.
Victims can also sometimes hold the defendant responsible for accident-related injuries that exacerbate pre-existing conditions. While the defendant is not responsible for a pre-existing injury, they may be responsible for injuries that made the pre-existing injury worse or for additional therapy the victim requires for the pre-existing condition or injury.
In Florida, accident victims who are successful in their claims can recover three types of damages: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages. Economic damages have an easily assigned monetary value, while non-economic damages do not. A court orders both types in an attempt to make the victim financially whole again after an accident.
In some cases, victims can also collect punitive damages if they can prove that the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent. This award is not to make the victim financially whole—it is strictly awarded as a punishment for the defendant’s egregious behavior.
Economic damages, also known as special damages, can include:
- Past medical expenses.
- Future medical expenses.
- Past lost wages.
- Future lost wages.
- Replacement or repair of destroyed or damaged personal property.
- Funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses for those who lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident.
Non-economic damages, also known as general damages, can include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress, for those who suffered injuries in a drunk driving accident.
- Emotional distress for those who lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident.
- Loss of quality of life if the victim has to take medications, use ambulatory aids, or visit a therapist for the rest of their life.
- Loss of companionship if the victim can no longer enjoy and take part in family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if the victim can no longer have a physical relationship with their spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as a hand or foot.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as bladder control or eyesight.
- Inconvenience if the victim has to hire someone to do regular chores, such as grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, and home repair and maintenance.
- Amputation, whether the amputation happened during the accident or because of infection after the accident.
- Extensive scarring and disfigurement.
Contact a Fort Lauderdale drunk driving accident lawyer today to find out whether you can seek compensation for your damages.