Too often, our clients suffer injuries at the hands of an intoxicated motorist. Clients generally have two questions:

Will the drunk driver have to pay for the harm caused?

Is their intoxication a help or a hindrance in obtaining a settlement?

Let’s take a closer look:

Will the drunk driver’s insurance compensate me for my injuries?  Yes!  In Arizona, the drunk driver’s automobile insurance company will provide liability insurance coverage even when its insured was intoxicated at the time of the collision.

May I pursue punitive damages against the drunk driver? Absolutely. Those who are injured due to the fault of others may pursue claims for compensatory damages (damages to compensate the injured individual for past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, and pain/suffering). Punitive or “exemplary” damages are designed to punish and make an example of those who cause injuries while engaged in egregious conduct, like driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs, drag racing, excessive speeding, road rage and the like. Unfortunately, most auto insurance companies don’t provide coverage for punitive damages, but the claim may be pursued directly against the drunk driver.

Can the drunk driver file bankruptcy to avoid responsibility for compensatory and punitive damages? No. The United States bankruptcy code excludes from discharge liability to others when the liability arises out of the use of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

I am the victim in the criminal prosecution of a drunk driver. I made a claim for restitution. May I still pursue a claim for damages against the drunk driver in a civil lawsuit? Yes! Restitution is available to a victim in a criminal proceeding for out-of-pocket economic loss. The remedy in a civil personal injury case is compensation for all harm caused by the responsible party, including past and future medical expenses, loss of earnings, pain and suffering, and in the case of egregious conduct, punitive damages. The victim of a drunk driver’s conduct may pursue a restitution claim in the criminal case and a civil lawsuit against the drunk driver. The amount of any judgment obtained in a civil lawsuit must be credited by the amount of restitution that is actually received by the victim in the criminal case. 

So, you are involved in a bad collision caused by a drunk driver. In the civil case, you obtain a judgment against the drunk driver for $500,000, representing your medical expenses, loss of earnings and an amount for your pain and suffering. The drunk driver has only  $100,000 of liability insurance, which his insurance company pays after you obtain the judgment. You have also incurred out-of-pocket expenses for items like deductibles, co-pays and loss of earnings in the amount of $25,000.  In the criminal case, the judge orders that the defendant pay you $25,000 in restitution. Under this example, the drunk driver would still be liable to you in the sum of $400,000 minus any amounts that you actually received in restitution in the criminal case.

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