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Recoverable Damages in Drunk Driving Accidents

Recoverable Damages in Drunk Driving Accidents

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, impaired drivers killed at least 248 people in 2021. This statistic represents an increase of 44% over the numbers from 2019. It also indicates that impaired drivers were responsible for almost 37% of all road fatalities. The number of people injured by drunk drivers is sure to be much higher. To make matters worse, impaired drivers cause an enormous amount of property damage every year. 

With the rate of impaired driving increasing throughout Colorado, it is crucial to understand your rights. Victims of impaired drivers are often entitled to financial compensation. In addition, immediate family members of victims killed by impaired drivers might be able to recover damages as well. This article will help you understand the recoverable damages in drunk driving accidents.

What Is a Drunk Driver? 

The Colorado Revised Statutes use the term impaired driver to refer to what we commonly call a drunk driver. Most of us know that a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above .08% is impaired and likely guilty of DUI. What many of us don’t know is that there are other forms of impairment. For example, a driver with a BAC between .05% and .08% is driving while ability impaired. (DWAI) Though a DWAI is a less severe offense than a DUI, it can still be grounds for a personal injury claim. Colorado law also considers drivers impaired if they are under the influence of one or more drugs, even if the driver has a prescription. 

Who Can Recover Damages After a Drunk Driving Accident? 

The first group who can recover damages after a drunk driving accident includes anyone directly injured by an impaired driver. If an impaired driver causes an accident, they are responsible for any injuries caused by that accident. These injuries include both physical injuries and property damage. For example, if an impaired driver destroys a portion of your fence, then they are liable for the damage to the fence. Physical injuries can be more complex and harder to quantify. If a drunk driver physically injures you, it is essential to file a police report and contact an attorney as soon as possible. The statute of limitations for personal injury claims after an auto accident is three years in Colorado.  

The family members of victims killed by impaired drivers can also recover damages. Colorado’s wrongful death statute provides an avenue for such family members to recover damages. Damages available for a wrongful death claim are often different than those available for a personal injury claim.

Further, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in Colorado is only two years. This limitation makes it essential to contact an attorney as soon as possible if an impaired driver kills a family member. 

Common Damages After a Drunk Driving Car Accident

There are two primary categories of damages available to the victims of impaired drivers. The first category is compensatory damages, which are meant to make the victim whole. In other words, compensatory damages make up for the losses a victim suffered due to the negligence of the impaired driver. The second primary category is punitive damages. As the name suggests, the intention behind an award of punitive damages is to punish a defendant who acted in a particularly egregious manner. 

Compensatory Damages 

Compensatory damages fit into two subcategories. These categories are economic or monetary damages and non-economic damages. 

Monetary damages are usually the quantifiable results of a drunk driver’s actions. Drunk driving accident monetary damages include past and future medical bills, lost wages, future earnings, and damage to property. An example of monetary damages is compensation for future earnings lost due to suffering a permanent disability that makes it impossible to perform your job. 

Pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional stress, and a reduction in your quality of life are all examples of non-economic damages. Due to their less tangible nature, non-economic damages are more challenging to quantify than monetary damages. It is vital to work with an attorney to present to the court a theory about why non-economic damages are necessary. An attorney will also attempt to quantify non-economic damages for the court.

The Colorado Revised Statutes also put a cap on non-economic damages. The cap is currently set at just over $250,000 unless a plaintiff can show clear and convincing evidence the damages award should be higher. In cases where the plaintiff can clearly justify a higher amount, the cap is raised to just over $500,000. This cap is pegged to inflation and rises every year.  

Punitive Damages from a Drunk Driving Accident

Punitive damages are not always available to the victims of a drunk driver. In fact, they are rarely awarded. They punish defendants for particularly bad behavior involving fraudulent, malicious, or willful-and-wanton misconduct. This standard makes it hard for victims to prove that punitive damages are warranted. The possibility of punitive damages will be determined by the circumstances of the accident and the impaired driver’s behavior. 

Special Considerations for Wrongful Death Claims

The damages that are available when you file a wrongful death claim are different than those available as part of a personal injury claim. Recoverable damages in a wrongful death claim include: 

  • Funeral Costs,
  • Medical Bills,
  • Pain and suffering, 
  • Lost wages, 
  • Loss of financial support, 
  • Loss of companionship, and
  • Mental grief.

Your relationship with the deceased will determine which damages you can claim. The courts will also look into the specific circumstances of your loved one’s death to help determine which forms of compensation are appropriate. Wrongful death claims can be particularly complicated. It is important to contact an attorney to help determine which types of damages are available to you.

We Can Help

If a drunk driver has harmed you or someone you love, we here at Sloat, Nicholson & Hoover, P.C. can help. Our firm has over 100 years of combined experience handling accident cases in Colorado. We have recovered over one hundred million dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients. Our skill, experience, and dedication will help ensure you get the compensation you deserve. Let the attorneys at Sloat, Nicholson & Hoover, P.C. focus on your claim so you can focus on your recovery.

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