Compensation for Injuries Caused by a Drunk Driver

Drunk driving causes far too many accidents in North Carolina. Despite an increase in public awareness about the dangers of drunk driving and a wide variety of ride sharing companies that have come to the transportation market, drivers continue to drive while under the influence of intoxicating substances. If you have suffered injuries in a drunk driving accident, you may be entitled to compensation.

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC our skilled personal injury attorneys have extensive experience in fighting for our clients. We have the tools needed to fight hard on behalf of our clients’ rights to compensation from the intoxicated drivers who caused their injuries. Contact our law firm today, with easy to reach offices in Charlotte, Monroe and Mooresville to schedule your free initial consultation.

North Carolina DWI Laws

North Carolina prohibits driving while intoxicated (DWI). Not only is driving while drunk a criminal offense, but those convicted of DWI may also face liability in a civil trial. In North Carolina, the following constitutes driving while intoxicated:

  • Operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher, or
  • Driving while impaired from any intoxicating substance, regardless of the blood test or breathalyzer test results

The DWI standard for commercial drivers is even more strict. Commercial drivers with a blood alcohol limit of .04 or higher may face a charge of driving while intoxicated. It is also illegal to operate a moving vehicle while under the influence of illicit drugs or prescribed drugs. Any combination of drugs and alcohol can cause impairment. Even when a driver's blood-alcohol level is under .08%, the driver might still face a drunk driving charge due to being impaired.

DWI Convictions and Personal Injury Lawsuits

How does a DWI conviction affect a victim’s right to compensation in a civil personal injury trial? Criminal convictions take place in criminal courts per North Carolina’s penal statutes. Civil lawsuits involve an injured party seeking compensation from the negligent person who caused his or her injuries. Car accident victims can sue intoxicated drivers whether or not a jury convicted the driver in a criminal court.

North Carolina’s Contributory Negligence Rule

North Carolina is one of only a few states that recognizes the doctrine of contributory negligence. Under this legal doctrine, a plaintiff cannot recover any damages for his or her injuries if that plaintiff was 1% at fault or more. Even if a North Carolina jury determines that the intoxicated driver is liable for your injuries, you will not recover any damages if you were at fault.

North Carolina recognizes an exception to the general contributory negligence rule. When the driver acts willfully or wantonly, the contributory negligence rule will not apply. Examples of willful and wanton conduct include the following:

  • The driver drives at excessive speeds
  • The driver drives while intoxicated
  • The driver was participating in a street race when the accident occurred

In other words, if the driver engaged in willful and wanton conduct, you may be able to recover damages for your injuries even if you were also at fault.

Passengers Who Knowingly Ride With an Intoxicated Driver

Nonetheless, if you received your injuries while you were a passenger, the court may still bar you from receiving compensation. If you knew or should have known that the driver was intoxicated and chose to ride with him or her anyway, you cannot recover damages. Under North Carolina law, passengers who willingly enter the vehicle and drive with an intoxicated driver are contributorily negligent and cannot recover damages. Two North Carolina appellate decisions have confirmed this somewhat harsh rule.

Punitive Damages in a North Carolina DWI Accident

Under North Carolina law, those injured by the willful or wanton conduct of the defendant may receive punitive damages in addition to general and specific damages. Courts impose punitive damages as a way to punish exceptionally egregious behavior and deter others from engaging in reckless behavior. Willful and wanton conduct means the driver acted in a way that caused intentional harm or wrongdoing. Many times, driving while intoxicated fits the definition of willful and wanton conduct. Our skilled car accident attorneys can help determine whether or not you may be entitled to punitive damages.

If You Have Been in a Car Accident, Our Attorneys Can Help

At Arnold & Smith PLLC, our Charlotte car accident attorneys have helped many plaintiffs recover damages for their injuries. We will fight hard for your right to compensation. Contact our personal injury law firm today to schedule your free initial consultation.

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