Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol is not only illegal but can also lead to severe traffic accidents. Even the smallest amount of alcohol can impair a person’s ability to safely operate their vehicle, putting everyone else on the road at risk for accident and injury.
Severe drunk driving accidents cause debilitating and life-threatening injuries, often forcing victims to spend weeks in the hospital, undergo surgery, and take time away from work. Medical bills and lost income create financial stress for many victims and their families, especially when they suffer a permanent injury and cannot return to their job.
Until you have the chance to meet with an attorney, we take a closer look into Tampa drunk driving accidents, the injuries they cause, and liability issues related to insurance and taking legal action to recover damages related to the accident and associated injuries.
The Prevalence of Drunk Driving Accident Injuries in Tampa
The number of drunk driving accidents in Hillsborough County has steadily decreased each year, according to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). Yet, more than 400 alcohol-related accidents occur in and around Tampa each year, leading to 18 or more fatalities.
These numbers only reflect accidents that crash reports designate as “alcohol-only” crashes. Traffic accidents that occur because of drugs and alcohol add at least 10 to 20 percent to crash totals depending on the year. Tampa drunk driving accidents involving drug use more than doubled the number of fatalities in most recent years.
Drivers learn the dangers of drunk driving during drivers’ education, and radio, television, movies, friends, and family continually reinforce these messages. Yet, some Tampa drivers get behind the wheel. The city offers a wide range of clubs and dining establishments, and it’s also a popular tourist and business travel destination, potentially increasing the likelihood of drunk drivers getting behind the wheel.
Tampa Drunk Driving Accidents Lead to Severe Injuries
Some traffic accidents lead to minor injuries or none at all. However, some lead to severe and fatal injuries, especially when alcohol is involved. The most serious drunk driving accidents typically lead to multiple injuries and complex accident injury claims. Examples of severe injuries that result from drunk driving accidents and often give rise to a personal injury claim include:
Broken bones do not often fall under the category of severe injuries. However, some breaks are severe, and drunk driving accident victims who suffer from multiple broken bones face one or more surgeries. Surgeons often need to use pins, plates, screws, or other surgical devices to provide a structure where the fracture occurred. New bone grows, and hopefully, the patient regains full function of the affected area.
Yet, many who suffer from crushed limbs or multiple fractures face a lifetime of complications even after successful surgery. For example, some develop arthritis in the affected area or never quite regain full range of motion.
Head and Brain Injuries
During a drunk driving crash, the heads of everyone involved in the accident move to some degree. The higher the speed of the crash, the stronger the head movement. The impact of the crash and associated movement can cause a traumatic brain injury. However, drivers and occupants also face an injury if they suffer a blunt force trauma to their heads during the crash.
Although any object can impact the head during an accident, most blunt force traumas to the head come from the windshield, seatback, or dashboard. Drunk driving accidents can suffer penetrating wounds, skull fractures, and brain injuries. Severe head traumas, especially those that cause a brain injury, can leave drunk driving accident victims with ongoing struggles related to memory, emotional regulation, communication, and other behavior issues.
Children risk developmental struggles. The worst accidents leave victims in a coma or persistent vegetative state (PVS).
Most serious traffic crashes, including those involving alcohol, cause some sort of damage to the neck. The impact of a crash that jars someone’s head also forces the neck to whip back and forth. Minor neck injuries include soft tissue injuries to ligaments, tendons, and muscles, such as strains or sprains.
More severe neck injuries include torn ligaments or tendons, often requiring corrective surgery. Fractures in the neck vertebrae and damage to the discs are among the most serious and potentially debilitating injuries. These injuries also typically require one or more corrective surgery and patients often suffer from continuous pain throughout their neck area and headaches.
Drunk driving accidents, even those at low speeds, can cause painful back injuries for drivers and occupants. The impact of a crash forces bodies to contort into unnatural positions, which vary based on seatbelt use, airbag deployment, vehicle type, and occupant location in a particular vehicle.
Back injuries can also include soft tissue damage, but the most severe injuries include broken vertebrae, herniated discs, and slipped discs. A severe back injury is not only painful but makes it difficult for victims to sit, stand, or lay down. Many patients must rely on some type of pain management regimen for life, even after surgery. Additionally, working is difficult, if not impossible, for many.
Spinal Cord Injuries
A spinal cord injury is among the most severe neck and back injuries. Those in drunk driving accidents, especially at high speeds, risk a debilitating spinal cord injury. Sometimes minor damage to the spinal cord, such as swelling or bruising, causes temporary functional loss. As it heals, patients regain losses.
The same is true when a piece of bone from the spinal column gets lodged in the cord. If doctors successfully remove the bone, patients sometimes regain all lost function. More severe damage to the spinal cord during a drunk driving accident typically results in permanent functional loss. The level of paralysis and affected areas of the body depends on where along the spinal column the damage occurs.
Spinal cord injuries in the neck cause the most loss and typically result in full-body paralysis, known as tetraplegia.
Drunk driving accidents that occur at high speeds can lead to amputation. The impact of the crash can pin a driver’s or occupant’s legs or arms under a seat, dashboard, or steering wheel. Pinned and/or crushed limbs lose some level of blood flow, affecting the limb’s health. Limbs without adequate blood flow eventually die, spreading infection throughout the rest of the body.
Stopping that infection and preventing death means sometimes doctors must make the difficult decision to amputate. Amputees face immense physical and emotional challenges surrounding pain and artificial limb use. Additionally, a drunk driving accident victim who suffers an amputation faces massive medical bills from ongoing doctor visits and physical or occupational therapy.
Tampa Drunk Driving Accidents and PIP Insurance
Florida requires residents who register a vehicle to carry a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage to comply with the state’s no-fault insurance laws. After a Tampa drunk driving accident, each person involved must file a claim under the applicable PIP policy if they have one.
It doesn’t matter who caused the accident. In Florida, PIP coverage also extends to pedestrians and cyclists. If you were walking or on your bicycle, you can file a claim under your PIP coverage to recover some related medical expenses and lost wages. PIP policies often cover minor injuries. However, severe injuries quickly exhaust policy limits, especially the minimum $10,000.
Once someone meets or exceeds their PIP policy limit, they need to take legal action against the drunk driver to recover additional compensation for losses related to an accident and injuries.
Taking Legal Action After a Tampa Drunk Driving Accident
Florida law permits drunk driving accident victims to take legal action against the drunk driver who caused their injuries. Once you have met your PIP policy limit, you can bring a personal injury lawsuit against the drunk driver to recover damages related to the accident and injuries.
However, you must take action within the state’s four-year statute of limitations. The law allows for some rare exceptions, but in most cases, a Florida court will not hear a case if the statute of limitations time clock has run out.
If you bring a lawsuit, you could receive compensation for damages related to your accident and injuries. Damages include a wide range of economic and non-economic losses related to accident injuries. Examples include compensation for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. An experienced Tampa drunk driving accident lawyer can review your case and advise you on the next steps for bringing a lawsuit after a drunk driver harmed you.
Florida Dram Shop Laws
Most states have laws that govern when a third party shares liability with the drunk driver after an accident. Florida’s dram shop laws open establishments that serve alcohol to liability if a drunk driver causes an accident. This means you might also have grounds to bring a lawsuit against the bar, restaurant, nightclub, or another party that served alcohol to the drunk driver who caused your injuries.
However, bars and other places only have liability for drunk driving accidents under two conditions:
- They willfully and illegally sold or served alcohol to a minor.
- They knowingly served alcohol to someone who struggles with addiction to alcoholic beverages. The language of the law refers specifically to people who are “habitually addicted,” not necessarily those who are visibly drunk.
In Tampa and throughout Florida, social hosts who serve guests alcohol at a private event cannot be liable for damages from a drunk driving accident unless they serve a minor. This means that if the drunk driver who caused your injuries is over 21 and consumed alcohol at a party or simply enjoyed some cocktails at a friend’s house, the homeowner who served them is not financially responsible for damages if their guest gets in their vehicle and causes a Tampa drunk driving accident.
Proving Negligence in a Tampa Drunk Driving Accident Claim
Although drunk driving accident victims have the right to bring a lawsuit against a drunk driver or a third party for damages related to the accident and their injuries, they must prove negligence to prevail in their case. Proving negligence involves four major components. Here is an explanation of each component as it relates to Tampa drunk driving accident claims:
Duty of Care
Drivers have a duty of care towards others on the road to operate their vehicles with care and follow all traffic laws. Similarly, establishments that serve alcohol have a duty towards others to avoid serving alcohol to those who struggle with addiction and minors under the legal drinking age. Florida law establishes these duties, making this component of negligence easy to prove to a court.
Breach of Duty
The defendant(s) must have breached their duty towards the drunk driving accident victim. Driving under the influence, serving minors, and serving known alcoholics qualify as breaches of duty. Evidence such as blood test results, Breathalyzer readings, witness statements, and video footage helps prove a breach of duty.
Drunk driving accident victims only have viable personal injury claims if they have suffered harm. Harm refers to various physical, emotional, and financial damages. After a severe drunk driving accident, victims suffer serious injuries, lose income from missing work, and face pain and suffering from their injuries. Receipts, medical bills, medical records, pay stubs, and other documents typically offer proof of harm after a drunk driving accident.
Proving that the defendant’s breach of duty led to harm is the final element of negligence. Causation is often the most difficult and contested aspect of accident injury claims. However, cases involving drunk driving can be less murky because of the clear laws surrounding driving under the influence. An experienced Tampa drunk driving accident attorney can help victims build their cases and prove negligence.