The Research Society on Alcoholism recently published a study showing that alcohol-related fatalities in the United States have doubled in the last 20 years. The numbers are growing among certain segments of the population, including women. According to the study, nearly one million people died from alcohol-related causes during the study period, making it the third leading preventable cause of death. Another study showed that alcohol consumption and binge drinking in the United States has increased by about 8% since 2000.
With an increase in alcohol consumption, there is always an increased risk of alcohol-related personal injuries and wrongful death. What happens if you are a victim of a drunk driver or sustain serious injury as a result of the actions of someone who is under the influence of alcohol? The answer to this question may vary depending on the state law. However, generally, in order to recover compensation for personal injury or wrongful death, you have to prove that an individual was negligent in causing the car wreck. Merely being under the influence of alcohol does not mean necessarily that someone was negligent. Thus, for instance, if a driver were to rearend another driver who is under the influence of alcohol, the mere fact that the rear-ended vehicle’s driver was under the influence does not make them at fault for the car crash.
Instead, in every negligence case involving alcohol, an independent act of negligence must be proven to establish a claim for compensation. A personal injury or wrongful death lawyer will want to establish fault by examining whether either driver violated any traffic rules in causing the car wreck. This can be established through the issuance of a citation, the police report, an independent accident reconstruction, and/or eyewitness testimony.
Alcohol can also be a factor in other types of accidents, including horseplay, falls causing personal injury to another person and other acts of carelessness that result in personal injury. Likewise, intentional torts, such as assault, can be precipitated by binge drinking. In these cases, the use of alcohol can be used against the injury victim when the injury victim is also under the influence of alcohol. The use of alcohol can raise questions about contributory negligence and the credibility of eyewitness statements. “He said, she said” cases are always tough to win.
So, does the involvement of alcohol have any effect on a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit? A wrongful death lawyer in Cleveland, OH will tell you that alcohol abuse or drunkenness by someone who negligently or intentionally causes personal injury or death to another person is an accelerating factor that can have a dramatic impact upon the valuation of a personal injury or wrongful death claim. For example, when a drunken driver causes a car crash that kills or severely injures another driver or pedestrian, the drunk driver is liable for both compensatory damages and punitive damages. Compensatory damages include lost wages and benefits, medical expenses and pain and suffering caused by the injury or death. Punitive damages are added to compensatory damages for the sole purpose of punishing a drunk driver, thereby increasing the value of the claim.
Thanks to Mishkind & Kulwicki for their insight into personal injury claims and alcohol-related wrongful deaths.