Drivers learn about the dangers of drunk driving early in their lives. Yet, many still choose to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. Fortunately, drunk driving accidents have decreased over the last several decades. However, drunk driving accidents still occur far too often. The long-term impact of drunk driving accident injuries includes emotional trauma and financial stress on top of the physical pain of injury and healing. For some, a drunk driving accident translates to the sudden and tragic loss of a loved one.
If you have suffered drunk driving accident injuries or lost a loved one, it is best to contact an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer who can review your case and guide you on the best path forward for your circumstances.
Until you have the chance to consult with a drunk driving accident attorney, this guide provides a broad overview of drunk driving accidents in Florida, including laws about drunk driving, how Florida no-fault insurance could impact your claim, third-party liability in drunk driving accidents, common types of drunk driving accidents, drunk driving accident injuries that can give rise to a claim, and what you should do to protect the value of your claim after a drunk driving accident.
Drunk Driving Laws and Penalties in Florida
Like other states, Florida considers driving under the influence of alcohol a serious offense. Florida statutes state that a driver is guilty of drunk driving if they are driving or in physical control of the vehicle and their normal faculties are impaired because they are under the influence of alcoholic beverages, or they have a blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher. Truck drivers and others who hold commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) have a lower limit; a blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level of 0.04 or higher constitute drunk driving for CDL-holders.
Florida’s drunk driving law is loose enough to permit law enforcement to issue a citation for driving under the influence (DUI) for impairment, even if the driver does not meet the 0.08 threshold. First-time offenders can receive a fine between $500 and $2,000 if convicted. They also face up to six months of jail time.
Repeat offenders and other aggravating factors can increase fines and penalties for Florida drunk drivers. Offenders face increased jail time if they were driving under the influence with a minor in the vehicle or if their blood-alcohol or breath-alcohol level was higher than 0.15. Community service, probation, and license suspension or revocation are also typical penalties for Florida drunk drivers.
Drunk Driving Accidents and Florida No-Fault Insurance
Under Florida law, all residents who register a vehicle must purchase a minimum of $10,000 in property damage liability (PDL) and personal injury protection (PIP) coverage to comply with the state’s no-fault insurance laws. Injured people involved in a drunk driving accident or other traffic crash must first file a claim under their own PIP policy to receive benefits.
Florida PIP insurance provides the following benefits to policyholders, relatives in the same household, and passengers in the vehicle:
- 80 percent of reasonable medical expenses, including surgery, X-rays, hospitalization, and rehabilitation.
- 60 percent of lost wages for those who must miss work and expenses for obtaining outside service to replace tasks the injured person would have performed for their household.
- $5,000 in death benefits when a drunk driving accident takes the life of the policyholder or other covered individual.
Keep in mind that those covered under a PIP policy only receive benefits up to their policy limit. A drunk driving accident victim who suffers severe injuries easily meets or exceeds the minimum $10,000 in coverage. Additionally, Florida no-fault insurance does not pay benefits for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and mental anguish.
Once you have exhausted your PIP policy after a drunk driving accident, you may have other options to seek compensation for your injuries. Drunk driving accident victims often file a claim under the drunk driver’s bodily injury liability (BIL) insurance coverage. However, Florida is one of two states that does not require drivers to purchase BIL coverage, so you might not have the option to sue the driver’s insurance company. In this situation, a drunk driving accident lawyer might advise you to directly sue the driver or identify a third party that might share liability for the drunk driving accident.
Third-Party Liability in Florida Drunk Driving Accidents
Many states have laws, referred to as dram shop laws, that govern who and when a bar, nightclub, restaurant, or another establishment can legally serve alcohol to an individual. Florida’s dram shop law is not as strict as some other states, but it does open business owners and social hosts up to liability for damages in some situations after a drunk driving accident.
The law states that any person who sells or provides alcohol to someone over the legal drinking age cannot be liable for injuries or damages, although:
- If a person knowingly sells or provides alcohol to a minor under age 21, they could be financially liable for damages if that person gets behind the wheel and causes an accident.
- If a person knowingly serves a person who suffers from alcohol addiction, they could be liable for injuries or damages from a drunk driving accident.
If you have suffered injuries at the hands of a drunk driver, your lawyer can review the facts of your case and identify any third parties who might be partially or fully liable for damages related to the drunk driving accident and your injuries.
Common Types of Drunk Driving Accidents
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates more than 25 people die in drunk driving accidents each day across the United States. Approximately 5,000 drunk driving accidents occur across Florida each year, leading to thousands of injuries and several hundred fatalities. Even the smallest amount of alcohol consumption can impact a driver’s coordination, judgment, and reaction time, resulting in a preventable accident that sometimes leads to severe injuries or fatalities.
Although a drunk driver can cause multiple types of traffic accidents, some occur more frequently than others. Common types of drunk driving accidents include:
Alcohol causes drowsiness in many users, increasing the chances that a driver might fall asleep while driving. Even nodding off for a few seconds can cause a drunk driver to swerve into oncoming traffic, resulting in a dangerous and potentially deadly head-on collision. Wide-awake drunk drivers can also cause a head-on crash, especially when they have consumed large amounts of alcohol. Alcohol impairs a driver’s ability to judge distance and their quality of vision, making it more likely to cross the centerline one or more times during their trip.
Safely operating a motor vehicle requires quickly processing massive amounts of information and appropriately reacting. Drunk drivers cannot react when a vehicle in front of them suddenly slows down or stops. The most impaired drivers struggle to react even during normal traffic flow that includes stopping at controlled intersections. Some believe they can stop safely; however, they are reacting with an impaired sense of time and distance. Delayed reactions or the failure to react sometimes leads to a rear-end collision, which is especially dangerous at high speeds.
With impairment that prevents the rapid processing of information, it is no surprise that drunk drivers cannot read or process each traffic sign or signal they see while driving. Unfortunately, this leads to drunk drivers operating their vehicles in the wrong direction. Although we often think of a wrong-way wreck when a driver goes the wrong way down a one-way street, other scenarios can also lead to wrong-way collisions. The most dangerous wrong-way collisions typically occur when a drunk driver mistakes an entrance or exit ramp on an interstate or highway. Traffic moves faster on freeways, so a drunk driver who enters the wrong way will likely cause a high-speed collision if they do not realize their error quickly.
Drunk drivers who have impaired vision and difficulty processing information often do not see others who share the road, such as pedestrians and cyclists. Even those on foot or bike face danger from a drunk driver when on a sidewalk. Drunk drivers might swerve to the side of the road or on a sidewalk and strike a pedestrian or cyclist, causing catastrophic or severe injuries or death.
Common Drunk Driving Accident Injuries
A drunk driving accident can lead to various injuries. Fortunately, some injuries are minor and might not even require taking legal action. Unfortunately, many drunk driving accidents are severe and costly. If you have suffered any of the following common drunk driving accident injuries, it is likely in your best interest to consult with a skilled drunk driving accident lawyer.
Drunk driving accidents can lead to complex fractures and crushed bones that sometimes require one or more reconstructive surgeries with plates, screws, or other surgical hardware. Severe fractures can cause a permanent disability that impacts someone for the rest of their life.
The impact of a drunk driving accident can cause direct and indirect head traumas, leading to potentially dangerous traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Minor concussions from a crash often heal on their own in a few weeks. However, more severe concussions and injuries that penetrate the skull often have long-term consequences for victims. Depending on the area of the brain where the injury occurred, TBI victims might struggle with memory, logical reasoning, senses, behavior, and motor functions.
Neck and Back Injuries
The same impact from a drunk driving accident that causes head trauma can also cause neck and back injuries. The force of a crash can move bodies into various unnatural positions. Depending on the speed upon impact and the direction of movement, drunk driving accident victims might suffer minor soft tissue injuries, such as strains and sprains. In more severe accidents, victims might break vertebrae in their neck and back or suffer from bulged or herniated discs.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord cells do not regenerate like other cells in the body, so damage to the spinal cord is permanent. During a drunk driving accident, injured victims might suffer an injury that leads to swelling and bruising on the spinal cord. This can cause temporary paralysis that typically goes away after bruises heal and swelling subsides. If a piece of bone gets lodged in the cord or the cord suffers cuts from a severe accident, victims face permanent paralysis. Spinal cord injuries closest to the brain cause the most functional loss, sometimes leading to tetraplegia—full paralysis from the neck down.
During the impact of a drunk driving accident, a person’s limb, foot, hand, toe, or finger can suffer enough damage that doctors need to amputate. In crashes with immense force, a sharp object can sever a body part. Other times, limbs get crushed during an accident. Crushed limbs lose blood flow and begin to die. Sometimes paramedics or doctors cannot restore blood flow. The only way to prevent the spread of infection and death is to amputate and leave victims with a permanent loss.
Protecting Your Rights After Suffering Drunk Driving Accident Injuries
If you have sustained injuries in a Florida drunk driving accident, it is important to protect your rights and the value of your claim so you get the compensation you deserve for losses related to the accident. Of course, you must report the accident, get immediate medical treatment, and follow your doctor’s orders. However, you should take some additional precautions.
- Keep meticulous records. Keep bills and receipts related to your drunk driving accident, property damage, and injuries. It is better to save too much and not need it than not have the evidence you need to support your claim.
- Avoid posting on social media. Insurance companies and investigators may aggressively look for ways to devalue your drunk driving accident claim. Avoid posting on social media until your case is resolved.
- Hire an experienced drunk driving accident lawyer. Let an attorney navigate the complexities of your case while you focus on healing.