Despite decades of outreach designed to spotlight the dangers of drunk driving, approximately 28 Americans are fatally injured every day in wrecks involving alcohol. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly one-third of all traffic fatalities stem from drunk driving. These same car accidents result in $44 billion in damages. Unfortunately, statistics also show that the promise of stiff penalties and fines has done little to deter drunk driving. Although more than one million drivers are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) every year, an estimated 121 million Americans self-report drinking and driving on occasion.
The physical and financial devastation caused by drunk driving is clear. However, a drunk driving car accident is an entirely avoidable event. When a driver gets behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, they not only knowingly put themselves at risk but also all surrounding motorists. This heightened level of negligence is easily and frequently compensable in a court of law.
Special Damages Are Often Available In DUI Cases
South Carolina is a tort liability state, thus allowing car accident victims to pursue compensation for financial losses related to the wreck. This may include medical treatment, rehabilitation costs, property damage, and lost wages. Additionally, an injured party may be entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering.
However, when alcohol plays a role in a car accident, victims can – and should – seek punitive damages. South Carolina generally caps punitive damage awards at the greater of three times the amount of compensatory damages pursuant to S.C. Code § 15-32-530, though important exemptions to this rule exist in DUI cases.
To that end, when a defendant acted unreasonably and with knowledge that his or her actions were likely to injure another – or when the actions constitute a felony – victims may seek up to four times their compensatory damage award. If a defendant was under the influence of alcohol there is no cap on damages a judge or jury may award. Moreover, any punitive damage award issued by a judge or jury is paid in addition to their compensatory damage award.
Victims Must Establish Drinking Was a Factor in a Car Accident
In most cases, law enforcement will arrest a suspected drunk driver or issue a citation for DUI if the driver fails or refuses a field sobriety test. In court, an official police report indicating as much can serve as proof that alcohol contributed to the crash. When filing a personal injury lawsuit in connection with property damage and physical injuries sustained in a drunk driving accident, it is often beneficial to allow the criminal case against a DUI defendant to proceed first. A conviction for DUI bolsters a victim’s claims considerably. However, even if a defendant is ultimately acquitted, a victim may still seek damages at trial and establish independently that alcohol was a contributing factor in a crash.
Victims of drunk driving car accidents may also take legal action against other parties in connection with the crash. Though South Carolina has no specific statute authorizing actions against bars and taverns who continue to serve patrons despite visible intoxication, such entities have been held liable in court in such cases. Social host liability has also been found in cases involving minors who were knowingly supplied alcohol by an adult.
The Tragic Facts About Drunk Driving Crashes
- About 2 in every 3 people will be in at least one drunk driving crash during their lifetime – This is a chilling fact about DUI collisions because it means that approximately 67 percent of Americans will either be a drunk driver who causes a crash or the victim of one of these accidents. What may be more unnerving than this is the fact that the average drunk driver has driven while impaired about 80 times prior to being arrested for DUI.
- Every 2 minutes in the U.S., someone is hurt in a drunk driving accident – And at least once every hour or so, someone is killed by a drunk driver. This means that, every day in the U.S., more than 740 people are hurt by an impaired motorist, and about 28 others are killed by negligent drunk drivers.
- Perception & judgment impairments can start affecting drivers after only one or two drinks – When discussing drunk driving accidents, it can be easy to assume that the impaired drivers were really drunk, having extremely high BACs. However, it is important for all motorists to understand that they can begin to experience significant perception and judgment impairments at BACs as low as 0.02. This means that it can only take a few drinks for motorists to be impaired and not fully capable of safely operating a vehicle. In others, buzzed driving is drunk driving.
- Drunk driving accidents are 100 percent preventable – This may be the one hopeful fact, as it underscores that education and enforcement may continue to deter drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel. It also points to the fact that, when drunk driving accidents occur, the negligent motorists can be liable for compensating victims for their injuries and losses.
South Carolina Ranked Second For Drunk Driving
According to a report by the consumer review company, SafeWise, South Carolina is ranked second in the nation for drunk driving fatalities. In 2017, South Carolina reported over six deaths for each 100,000 residents in the state. Only Wyoming had a higher number with a little over seven deaths per 100,000 residents. New Jersey ranked lowest in the nation with only one death reported for every 100,000 residents.
In 2016, South Carolina was ranked sixth in the country for drunk driving deaths with a reported 336 fatalities from drunk driving wrecks. In just one year’s time, the state climbed from a ranking of sixth place to second place in the nation. New Jersey ranks the lowest in drunk driving deaths with a total of 1.38 deaths per 100,000 residents.
Penalties for Drunk Driving in South Carolina
Many question why South Carolina is having so much difficulty reducing the number of drunk driving deaths each year. One clear indication for the cause points to the penalties imposed for drunk driving in the state. Compared to other states with the lowest number of fatalities, South Carolina’s laws and penalties for DUI may not be enforced as stringently.
According to a study conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), South Carolina has the most lenient laws against drunk drivers in the country. A spokesperson for MADD claimed that South Carolina court systems are too lenient with handing out convictions for drunk driving. Arresting police officers are required to appear in court and battle with the defense attorney to validate their charges while supplying their own evidence.
The arresting officer can use dashcam video to support their charge, but many times this evidence is thrown out if there is any type of problem with the video footage, such as blurriness, which is common when the video is taken at night. Enforcement of Emma’s Law is also lax, according to the MADD study. Drivers convicted of a first offense DUI should be required to install an interlock device on their cars, but few are made to do so. The device would prevent a person from starting their car if alcohol is detected on an installed breathalyzer.
In comparison, New Jersey has the lowest number of drunk driving deaths in the country and some of the strongest enforcement of DUI laws. Fines for first time offenders range between $250 to $400, require a minimum of 12 hours to three months in jail, loss of driving privilege for three months, an annual surcharge of $1,000 on car insurance for three years, and other fees that can exceed $525.
Second and third time offenders in New Jersey face even harsher penalties. A second DUI charge in New Jersey results in loss of license for two years, 30 days of community service, up to 90 days in prison, 48 hours of instruction at the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, up to $1,500 fine, and $3,000 mandatory surcharge on car insurance. Third time offenders in New Jersey will serve 180 days in prison, 30 days of community service, ten-year loss of driving license, and a surcharge of $5,000 on their car insurance.
South Carolina Car Accident Lawyers at Chappell, Chappell and Newman Represent Drunk Driving Accident Victims
The decision to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs is both selfish and careless. If you or a loved one has been injured in a drunk driving accident, the Columbia car accident lawyers at Chappell, Chappell and Newman will seek justice on your behalf. Contact us online or call us to schedule a consultation at one of our five offices, where we serve clients throughout South Carolina, including in Lexington County, Richland County, Sumter County, Aiken County, Florence County, Lancaster County, York County, Orangeburg County, Kershaw County, Newberry County, Columbia, Lexington, Irmo, Chapin, Rock Hill, Aiken, Sumter, Newberry, Florence, and Spartanburg.