If someone is driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of a crash, they will certainly be considered for liability, but it is not an open and shut case. In South Carolina, a drunk driver is not automatically at fault for a car crash in which they are involved. Victims of drunk driving accidents still need to prove the other driver is liable. To get the fair compensation you deserve after a crash with a drunk driver, seek the guidance of the team at Pracht Injury Lawyers.
Proving Who Is at Fault in a Drunk Driving Accident
Whether or not the accident involves alcohol, it’s crucial to follow some key steps after a South Carolina car crash. The documented evidence will help to prove who is liable for damages. Victims need to prove fault if they want to pursue a personal injury claim after a drunk driving crash.
The three main elements in a personal injury claim are showing a duty of care existed, proving that a breach of duty of care occurred, and establishing causation between the breach and the victim's injuries. Unless the drunk driver is found to have violated these elements, it’s possible that they will not be found at fault for causing the accident.
Breach of Duty of Care
“Duty of care” refers to how every driver is expected to operate their vehicle with reasonable care. Every driver has an implicit responsibility toward every other motorist on the road, as well as cyclists and pedestrians. You are expected to follow traffic signs and drive safely. Every driver owes everyone else this “duty of care.”
To “breach” this duty of care means to be reckless, negligent, unreasonable, or careless. It could mean that the driver did something dangerous, like suddenly swerving across lanes of traffic. Or, the driver may have failed to do something, like yield to a school bus. Driving under the influence (DUI) qualifies as a breach of duty of care. Alcohol can reduce a driver’s ability to operate their vehicle safely, slow down their reaction times, and affect their muscle coordination.
Drunk drivers are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors like:
- Excessive speeding
- Failing to stop
- Failing to signal
- Ignoring traffic signs
- Drifting across lanes
- Driving erratically
Does this mean that a drunk driver is automatically at fault in a car crash? Not necessarily. Driving while intoxicated is a breach of duty of care, but it may not have caused the accident. Say a drunk driver is stopped at a red light. If another car speeds and turns into them, the drunk driver is not liable. The other, presumably sober driver is completely at fault for causing the accident.
It is vital to establish this causal link to prove who is at fault in a car accident. Fault may not be completely black and white, either. South Carolina operates on comparative negligence where fault is assigned as a percentage. The other party must be at least 50 percent responsible for the crash in order for you to pursue damages. If their inebriation contributed to the accident, you may still be able to file a civil lawsuit against them.
Negligence Per Se
South Carolina also has a “negligence per se” law. When someone violates DUI laws, it automatically proves they have breached the duty of care. Given this, victims do not have to prove that a drunk driver was negligent. The fact that they are guilty of driving while intoxicated is proof enough.
This may require a police officer to issue a DUI ticket at the scene. Even without a ticket, victims may notice signs of inebriation at the scene. The other driver may have been swerving on the road. Their speech may have been slurred while exchanging information. Or, you may have noticed them having trouble walking correctly. If you believe the other driver is drunk, tell this to the police officer at the scene.
Remember, however, that simply proving a breach of duty of care is not enough. You must also prove causation. Negligence per se laws only cover the former and not the latter. They also only apply if it is proven that the other driver was drunk at the time of the accident. If proven, the jury must still decide whether violating DUI laws caused the accident and the plaintiff’s injuries.