Everyone knows the dangers of drinking and driving - yet, so many people still drive on our roadways after a night of drinking. Despite efforts to stop - or at least curb - drinking and driving, there are still people who endanger themselves - and others - when they are intoxicated. In fact, a drunk driver kills someone in the United States every 50 minutes.
Everyone thinks that they won’t be affected by drunk driving. But the statistics show otherwise. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about one in three Americans will be affected by a drunk driving accident.
So what should you do if you find yourself the victim in a drunk driving accident? There is good news, as you have a variety of options and a strong support system.
ASSESS THE DAMAGE
It can be traumatizing if you are the victim of a car accident - let alone an accident that could have been avoided by someone’s decision to not drink and drive. But part of the recovery process is to heal yourself physically and be made whole financially.
The first step in this process would be to assess the damage - first, physically. If you are the victim in a drunk driving crash, always accept the ambulance visit to make sure you are okay physically, and to see what potential injuries may arise later. Make sure you are checked for:
Brain and head injuries frequently arise after car accidents, even if you feel fine right after the accident. Concussions occur after collisions when the brain moves or hits the skull. Sometimes, you may not feel the effects of concussions until a day or so later. Seek medical attention immediately in order to determine whether you have suffered from head trauma.
Back and spine injuries are also common after car accidents, especially if you were hit from behind. Again, you might feel okay immediately after the accident, but is it important that you have a medical professional look at you to see if the accident caused any alignment issues or muscular damage to your back or spine. Often, back and spine injuries require surgery, even if it is years down the line. Seek medical attention right away to prevent unnecessary complications later on.
Neck injuries - You might have heard about the term “whiplash,” and maybe you’ve experienced it before. Whiplash is a mild neck injury - but again, you should opt to receive medical attention if you experience whiplash after a drunk driving accident. Sometimes, more serious neck injuries arise after you mistook your injury for whiplash. Chronic muscle pain and even nerve damage are also common after car accidents.
Cuts, Sores, Bruises
If you are lucky enough to avoid the above injuries after a drunk driver hits you, you might still suffer from cuts, scrapes, sores, or bruises. For instance, you might have various cuts and bruises from your seat belt, or from hitting your head or face on a part of the car. Have a medical professional assess your damage and treat your wounds in order to avoid further complications.
Even if you look “okay” on the outside, you should have a doctor look at you to see whether you have any internal injuries. Internal bleeding is common after a car accident, especially from the strain of a seat belt.
Any car accident can be psychologically taxing, especially when it involves a drunk driver. You may suffer from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional distress, depression from losing a loved one who was also involved in the accident, or even fear of leaving the home. Don’t underestimate or downplay your distress, seek professional help and work to move past the event as best as you can.
HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE
If you are involved in a drunk driving accident, immediately call the police - even if you feel okay. Under New Jersey law, a driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher is guilty of a crime - and the penalties heighten as their BAC increases. Call 911 to have the police assess the other drivers’ alcohol level if you suspect any drunk driving (i.e. if they “came out of nowhere,” were swerving, driving in the wrong lane or wrong side of the road, excessively speeding, etc.)
The police will also help to take down any information about the driver and accident, in the event that you are incapacitated. Questions that you or the police should ask include:
- How much have you had to drink?
- Where were you coming from? New Jersey has an active “dram shop law,” meaning that if the drunk driver was excessively or visibly drunk at a bar or establishment, the owner of the establishment could be partially liable for serving the visibly drunk patron. The rule also applies to party hosts, if they allow a visibly intoxicated guest to continue drinking and leave driving.
In addition, the drunk driver will be liable to compensate you for your injuries. “Compensatory damages” that you can recover from the drunk driver include:
- Medical bills (current and future)
- Therapy sessions (physical therapy and emotional)
- Lost wages
- Emotional distress
- Funeral expenses
- Wrongful death
FILE A PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM
After you have had a few weeks to recover physically and mentally, the next thing you should do is contact a New Jersey personal injury lawyer. Collect all of the information and your thoughts, and schedule a free consultation to file a claim against the drunk driver.