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Drunk drivers contributed to heavy 2016 death toll

Who pays damages when an intoxicated person causes a crash?

From police shootings and terrorist attacks to opioid overdoses and beloved celebrities, the headlines of 2016 have been a steady roll call of untimely and tragic deaths. Lost in that mix is an alarming increase in drunk driving deaths across the U.S.

After years of decline, drunk driving fatalities rose in 2015. The trend is projected to be even worse in the final tally for 2016. Experts aren't sure why this epidemic is occurring. The more important question is who can be held responsible.

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28 drunk driving deaths a day - and rising

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 10,265 Americans died in alcohol-related crashes in 2015, a 3 percent increase from 2014. If the trend continues, it means more people at risk here in Louisiana too. Since 2003, more than 3,000 Louisiana residents have been killed in drunk driving accidents and thousands of others badly injured.

Who pays when an impaired driver does cause a crash?

No dram shop or social host liability in Louisiana, but punitive damages may apply

Many states have "dram shop" laws that allow accident victims to sue a bar or restaurant that served a drunk driver. A handful of states also allow "social host" lawsuits against adults who provided alcohol at a private residence or party.

Under Louisiana law, the intoxicated driver is solely responsible. Third parties are not liable for the actions of a consenting adult who decides to drink and drive. There are three rare exceptions to this immunity: (a) The bar or social host furnished alcohol to an underage driver, (b) the host misrepresented an alcoholic beverage as non-alcoholic, or (c) the person was forced to consume alcohol.

Louisiana law does allow for the possibility of punitive damages in drunk driver cases - additional compensation to punish the individual and to deter others from driving under the influence.

Complicating factors in recovering compensation

Getting struck by a drunk driver does not automatically translate to monetary damages. It is still necessary to prove that the person was impaired by alcohol (or drugs) and that the person caused the accident. Tell the investigating officer if you suspect the other driver was intoxicated. Also tell a personal injury lawyer so that your suspicion is investigated independently.

An arrest or conviction provides leverage, but your insurance claim or civil lawsuit does not hinge on a criminal conviction for DUI. You would still be entitled to pursue compensation if the person is not charged or pleads guilty to a non-alcohol offense.

Drunk drivers are known to leave the scene of an accident, out of panic, fear or arrest or cold-blooded indifference. If a hit-and-run driver is never caught, you can recover compensation under the Uninsured Motorist/Underinsured Motorist provision of your car insurance. This UM/UIM coverage also protects you if the driver is identified but has no insurance or inadequate insurance.

What if the drunk driver is a friend or family member? In many cases, insurance will cover the hospital bills and other damages. In other cases, it will be necessary to file a lawsuit against a loved one. It depends on the nature of the relationship, the circumstances of the accident and exclusions in the applicable insurance policies.

It is always advisable to contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Early involvement of legal counsel can preserve evidence and prevent you from making mistakes that may harm your legal case.

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