What Are Your Legal Rights After a Drunk Driving Accident in Pennsylvania?
There is no excuse for getting drunk and then getting behind the wheel. Drunk driving is extremely dangerous, and this is precisely why it is against the law.
Unfortunately, despite the risks, far too many people still choose to drink and drive. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), there are more than 40,000 DUI arrests in the Commonwealth each year. Drunk drivers cause more than 9,000 accidents annually, and, on average, someone dies in a DUI accident in Pennsylvania almost every single day.
So, what does all of this mean for you?
Understanding Your Legal Rights After a Serious or Fatal Drunk Driving Accident in Pennsylvania
If you have been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident in Pennsylvania, you have clear legal rights. Not only does the law hold drunk drivers accountable, but in many cases it holds other parties accountable as well. Here’s what you need to know about protecting your legal rights:
1. Drunk Driving is Negligent Driving
The first thing to know is that while driving under the influence (DUI) is a crime in Pennsylvania, it is also considered a form of negligence. While criminal convictions can lead to fines and jail time for drunk drivers, accident victims and their families must file civil claims to recover their losses. Civil claims are based on negligence in most cases.
Drunk driving is a clear form of negligence. In fact, since drunk driving is against the law, it is considered a form of negligence per se. While this has a variety of important legal implications, the main thing to know is that if someone is driving drunk, then they are liable for the consequences of their actions under Pennsylvania law.
2. All Drivers in Pennsylvania Should Have Liability Insurance
As you may know, auto insurance is mandatory in Pennsylvania. So, the drunk driver who hit you or your loved one should have coverage. The mandatory coverage requirements in Pennsylvania include bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage—which is the type of coverage that covers accident victims’ losses when the insured driver is to blame.
Unfortunately, despite Pennsylvania’s auto insurance law, not all drivers are insured. Additionally, the minimum BIL coverage limit is relatively low—$15,000 per person (and $30,000 per accident). While $15,000 is a lot of money, it represents just a small fraction of drunk driving accident victims’ losses in most cases.
Of course, if the drunk driver has additional coverage, then you can seek the maximum coverage available to cover your (or your family’s) accident-related losses. This includes not only medical expenses, lost earnings, and other out-of-pocket costs but non-financial costs (i.e., pain, suffering and emotional trauma) as well.
3. Now May Be the Time to Use Your Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UIM) Coverage (if You Have It)
If you have uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage under your auto insurance policy, now may be the time to use it. This type of auto insurance is optional in Pennsylvania, so you will need to review your policy to find out if you have it. If you do, you can use your UIM policy after a drunk driving accident in three ways:Filing an Uninsured Motorist Claim – If the drunk driver who hit you or your loved one is uninsured, you can file a claim with your insurance company. In this scenario, your insurance company will “stand in the shoes” of the drunk driver’s insurer, and you will be able to seek coverage up to your policy limit.
- Filing an Underinsured Motorist Claim – If the drunk driver has insurance but not enough to fully cover the costs of the accident, then the “underinsured” component of your policy will apply. In this scenario, you can use your policy to make up the difference between the drunk driver’s policy limit and your total accident-related losses (up to your policy limit).
- Stacking Your UIM Coverage – If you have multiple vehicles with UIM coverage and have opted for “stacking,” you can add together the UIM policy limits for each of your vehicles to increase the total coverage you have available. For victims and family members who have this type of coverage, it can prove essential in many drunk driving accident cases.
4. A Third Party Could Be Liable for Your (or Your Loved One’s) Drunk Driving Accident
When a drunk driver causes a car accident, seeking auto insurance coverage isn’t necessarily your only option. Third parties can be held liable for drunk driving accidents in many cases.
A third party is an individual or company that is legally responsible even though it was not directly involved in the collision. In drunk driving accident cases in Pennsylvania, some examples of potential third-party claims include:
- Claims against bars, restaurants and other establishments that served visibly intoxicated individuals;
- Claims against bars, restaurants and other establishments that served individuals who were under age 21;
- Claims against social hosts who served visibly intoxicated individuals or individuals who were under age 21;
- Claims against rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft when a drunk rideshare driver causes an accident; and,
- Claims against drunk drivers’ employers when they are working at the time of a serious or fatal alcohol-involved accident.
5. You Can Hire a Lawyer at No Out-of-Pocket Cost
Given the substantial costs resulting from drunk driving accidents and the challenges involved in asserting your legal rights, it is important to have an experienced lawyer on your side. If you have a serious or fatal drunk driving accident claim, you can hire a lawyer at no out-of-pocket cost. Our firm handles all car accident claims on a contingency-fee basis, which means our clients pay nothing unless we win.
Discuss Your Pennsylvania Drunk Driving Accident Case with a Lawyer in Confidence
If you need to know more about your legal rights after a serious or fatal drunk driving accident in Pennsylvania, we strongly encourage you to get in touch. With offices in Allentown, Bethlehem, Doylestown, Easton and Stroudsburg, we handle drunk driving accident cases statewide. For a free and confidential consultation, please call 888-777-7098 or tell us how we can reach you online today.