Georgia injury attorney explains accident compensation rights following injuries from a drunk driving crash
Were you or a loved one the victim of a drunk driving accident in Georgia?
Get the help you need from the experienced legal team at Gerber & Holder.
We’ll fight to get you and your family the justice and compensation you deserve.
The dangers of drunk driving continue to be a pressing issue in the United States, despite ongoing awareness campaigns and strict legal measures designed to curb the behavior. Shockingly, more than 30% of all traffic-related deaths in the U.S. involve drunk drivers.
The tragedy of these statistics is that they represent lives irrevocably altered or lost, families shattered and communities scarred. The decision to drive while impaired can lead to catastrophic outcomes that unfold in mere seconds but can affect victims and their families for their entire lives.
This article will delve into the harrowing realities of drunk driving, its legal ramifications, and how victims and their families can seek justice and compensation after a drunk driving accident.
How many people are killed in drunk driving accidents across the U.S. and Georgia?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 13,384 people died in drunk driving accidents in 2021 alone. That’s equivalent to 1 person dying in an alcohol-related crash every 39 minutes. Sadly, 100% of these deaths were preventable.
In Georgia specifically, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reported that drunk drivers were responsible for about 24% of all car crash fatalities in 2020, killing a total of 402 people that year. They also reported that the alcohol impaired drivers involved in these crashes were more than twice as likely to have been speeding at the time of the accident.
What is the most common age for drunk driving accidents?
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of alcohol-related crashes that led to fatalities in 2020 occurred in the following two age groups:
- 21 to 24 years old
- 25 to 34 years old
These groups each accounted for about 26% of fatal drunk driving crashes that year (for a total of 52%).
Why do drunk driving accidents often lead to more serious injuries and deaths?
The devastating impact of drunk driving accidents goes beyond mere statistics; it’s a grim reality that often results in catastrophic injuries and loss of life. Understanding why these accidents are typically more fatal and catastrophic is critical for prevention and public awareness.
Below are some of the factors that contribute to the increased severity of injuries and fatalities in drunk driving accidents:
- Slower reaction time. Alcohol affects a driver’s ability to react quickly to changing situations on the road. Delayed reactions can make it difficult to avoid collisions, particularly in emergency situations.
- Reduced coordination. Alcohol affects motor skills and hand-eye coordination, making it more challenging for the driver to steer, brake and accelerate appropriately.
- Lack of focus. Drunk drivers often have difficulty concentrating and may become easily distracted, missing crucial cues that could help prevent an accident.
- Lack of awareness. Alcohol can reduce a driver’s awareness of the vehicle’s speed and distance from other objects, which makes controlling the vehicle more challenging and increases the chance of a severe accident.
- Increased likelihood of high-risk behaviors. Drunk drivers are more likely to engage in reckless or aggressive driving, such as weaving in and out of lanes, speeding, and ignoring the rules of the road, all of which increase the chance of severe accidents.
- Severity of the impact. Impaired drivers are far more likely to be speeding than sober drivers, which can increase the force of a crash, making injuries more severe and increasing the likelihood of fatalities.
- Multi-car collisions. The erratic behavior of a drunk driver can lead not only to a collision with a single vehicle but also trigger multi-car crashes, increasing the likelihood of severe injuries and deaths.
The combination of these factors often results in severe crashes that lead to devastating injuries or death for both the drunk driver and their victims.
In the news: Former Raiders player sentenced in fatal DUI
In August 2023, former Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was sentenced to a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 10 years in state prison after pleading guilty to a DUI resulting in death and vehicular manslaughter. The charges stem from a 2021 crash where Ruggs was driving at 156 mph with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit, which killed Tina Tintor and her dog.
During the hearing, Ruggs apologized and accepted responsibility for his actions. The judge noted the tragedy of the case and acknowledged Ruggs’ lack of a prior criminal record when sentencing him in line with the agreed-upon terms. Additional charges against him were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Is drunk driving considered a criminal or civil case in Georgia?
Drunk driving in Georgia is considered a criminal offense that can result in various penalties, including fines, jail time and loss of driving privileges, among other consequences.
Civil actions, such as personal injury lawsuits, may arise separately from the criminal case if the drunk driving incident resulted in injuries or property damage. However, the act of drunk driving itself is prosecuted criminally.
What is the punishment for drunk driving in Georgia?
In Georgia, penalties for impaired driving vary depending on the number of prior offenses and other circumstances:
- For a first offense, you could face up to a year in jail, a fine of $300 to $1,000, and a license suspension of up to 1 year.
- Second offenses within 5 years of the first come with at least 48 hours in jail (and up to 1 year), fines ranging from $600 to $1,000, and a 3-year license suspension. Additional penalties include mandatory substance abuse treatment and 30 days of community service.
- For a third offense within 5 years, the minimum jail time is increased to 15 days, with fines up to $5,000, and a license revocation for 5 years. Offenders also face 30 days of mandatory community service, and their name, photo, and address will be published in a local newspaper at their own expense. License plates are seized as well.
What types of compensation can I receive if I was injured or a family member was killed by a drunk driver in Georgia?
The state of Georgia offers multiple avenues to obtain compensation if you or a family member are the victim of a drunk driving accident.
Personal injury lawsuits
In Georgia, if you’ve been injured in a drunk driving accident, you may be entitled to various types of damages through a personal injury lawsuit. This can include compensation for the following:
- Medical expenses for treatment and rehabilitation (past and future)
- Lost wages if you’re unable to work
- Loss of future earnings if your ability to work is permanently affected
- Pain and suffering and emotional distress
- Property damage, such as repair or replacement of your vehicle
Wrongful death lawsuits
In the case of wrongful death due to a drunk driving accident, the family of the victim may be entitled to the following types of compensation in addition to those mentioned in a personal injury lawsuit:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of consortium or companionship
- Loss of financial support that the deceased provided
- Emotional distress suffered by the family members
Additionally, in both personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, punitive damages may also be available in certain cases to punish the at-fault driver and deter similar behavior in the future.
The Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program
In addition to compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, victims of certain crimes in Georgia may be able to file an application with the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program, which provides financial relief for victims of violent crimes, covering various expenses like medical bills, funeral costs, mental health counseling, and lost wages, among others.
The program compensates for a range of crimes, including assault, robbery and DUI crashes, but the crime must generally be reported to authorities within 72 hours to be eligible.
Eligibility extends to those physically injured in violent crimes, witnesses of violent crimes, parents or guardians of violent crime victims, dependents of someone killed in a violent crime, and others affected financially by the crime.
Awards are capped at $25,000 per victim, with specific limits for the following types of economic expenses (i.e., losses that have a specific financial cost):
- $15,000 for medical expenses
- $10,000 each for lost wages and loss of support expenses
- $6,000 for funeral expenses
- $3,000 for counseling
If the crime resulted in non-economic damages like pain and suffering, emotional distress or punitive damages, then the victim may file a personal injury lawsuit for those additional damages. The victim may not “double-dip” and collect from both the compensation program and a lawsuit for medical expenses, for instance. However, they may file a lawsuit for costs that are not covered under the program.
The program is intended to compensate victims when the person who committed the crime does not have assets or financial means to cover the victim’s expenses. Therefore, it provides compensation that the traditional legal system cannot. Even with a lawsuit, if the defendant does not have a way to pay for damages, the victim can “win” a lawsuit but still never receive payment for their expenses. The program is a way to ensure that their economic costs are covered.
An experienced personal injury attorney can help you determine what types of compensation you may be entitled to and assist you with filing the appropriate application or claim.
Can you sue a bar that serves a drunk driver in Georgia?
Yes, in some cases, you can. Georgia has something called a dram shop law that holds establishments like bars, restaurants and liquor stores accountable if they sell or serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who then causes injury or death to others. The law is designed to incentivize these establishments to act responsibly and not contribute to drunk driving or other alcohol-related accidents.
Under Georgia’s dram shop law, a victim of a drunk driving accident or their family may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the establishment that served the intoxicated driver, in addition to filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim against the driver themselves.
However, keep in mind that you’ll need to prove that the establishment was aware of the person’s intoxication to be awarded compensation, which can be difficult. An attorney can review the evidence in your case and help determine if a lawsuit against a bar or other liquor establishment is feasible.
Is there a cap on how much compensation I can receive through a personal injury lawsuit in Georgia?
Unlike with the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program, there is no cap on compensatory damages in personal injury or wrongful death cases, which means there is no limit on the amount you can recover for things like medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule, such as claims against government entities, which may have specific limitations on liability.
Punitive damages, which are designed to punish the offender and deter similar conduct, do have limitations in Georgia. Under Georgia law, punitive damages are generally capped at $250,000. However, there are exceptions to this cap, such as in cases where the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, malice or a disregard for the safety of others, which could be applicable in drunk driving cases.
It’s crucial to consult with an experienced attorney for the most accurate and current information tailored to your specific situation.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit in Georgia after a drunk driving accident?
In Georgia, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim after a drunk driving accident is typically 2 years from the date the accident occurred. For wrongful death claims, the statute of limitations is typically 2 years starting from the date of the victim’s death, which may or may not be the same as the date of the accident.
It’s crucial to adhere to these timelines, as failing to file within the specified period could bar you from recovering any compensation.
Get help from an experienced DUI accident attorney in Atlanta
In the aftermath of a drunk driving accident, victims are often left grappling with severe physical pain, emotional trauma, and financial burdens. We understand that navigating the legal landscape can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to go it alone.
If you or a family member was the victim of a drunk driving accident in Georgia, contact the experienced Atlanta injury attorneys at Gerber & Holder today for a free consultation. We can help you take the first steps toward recovering the justice and compensation you rightfully deserve.
CDC. (2020, November 6). Impaired Driving: Get the Facts | Motor Vehicle Safety | CDC Injury Center. www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html
Impaired Driving – Home | Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. (n.d.). https://www.gahighwaysafety.org/impaired-driving/
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2019, January 11). Drunk Driving. NHTSA; United States Department of Transportation. https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving