According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), alcohol impairment is one of the most common causes of traffic-related accidents, causing more than 11,000 deaths each year from drunk drivers and many more injuries.
If you've been injured or lost a loved one due to a drunk driver, you can seek compensation for the effects and expenses of your losses through the personal injury claims process. However, to have a successful outcome to your claim, you must show that the driver's alcohol impairment was the cause of the accident. To do this, you will need a drunk driving accident attorney and evidence. Here is a look at the type of evidence you need to prove a drunk driving car accident injured you and how to collect it.
The Type of Evidence that Can Be Available After a Drunk Driving Accident
In many ways, drunk driving accidents produce more evidence than many other types of accidents due to a police officer investigating the accident and determining that one of the parties involved is exhibiting behaviors indicative of alcohol impairment. Here is a look at the type of evidence often available after an alcohol-related traffic accident.
The Police Report
In most states, when an accident involving injuries or death occurs, the parties involved must remain at the scene until law enforcement personnel arrives to investigate the accident and collect statements from the parties involved and any witnesses at the scene.
The information gleaned from this investigation and collection of statements is then compiled into an accident report containing a narrative from the investigating officer about the accident and how it transpired.
Much of this narrative is inadmissible in court because the officer did not personally witness the accident. However, some information provided in the report can be used, including any parties arrested and the justification.
The Results of an Alcohol Screening
When an officer suspects that a driver involved in an accident has been drinking, they will ask the suspected drunk driver to submit to a field sobriety test. There are several tests that state and local law enforcement personnel can administer to determine if a driver is impaired.
Most commonly, police will ask a driver to take one or more of the following tests.
- The horizontal gaze nystagmus involves the involuntary jerking of the eyes that occurs in sober individuals when they rotate their eyes at high angles. Intoxicated people generally exhibit more exaggerated jerking and at lower angles. Officers perform this test by asking the driver to follow a moving object, such as a pen or a flashlight, with their eyes as they move it from side to side and observe the movement of the eyes.
- The walk-and-turn test involves the driver taking a series of heel-to-toe steps in a straight line, turning, and taking the same number of heel-to-toe steps in the opposite direction. There are seven indicators with this test that suggest that a driver is impaired:
- Beginning the test before the officer completes the instructions,
- Being unable to maintain balance while listening to the officer's instructions
- Failing to touch their heel to their toes when taking steps,
- Losing their balance when turning,
- Having to stop while walking to regain balance,
- Taking an incorrect number of steps, or
- Using their arms to balance themselves.
- The one-leg stand test involves the officer asking the driver to stand on one leg with their other foot about six inches off the ground and count slowly until the officer says to put their foot down. Some of the signs indicating that a driver is impaired include the driver hopping to maintain their balance, swaying while balancing, putting their foot down, or holding out their arms to balance.
After the driver has submitted to these tests, if the officer believes the driver is impaired, they can arrest the driver on suspicion of driving under the influence. They will then go to the hospital to test their blood, breath, or urine to determine alcohol impairment and the level of impairment.
The field sobriety test results and the blood alcohol test while performed for the police to determine if the driver has violated traffic laws by driving while under the influence can be used as evidence for your claim.
It is important to note that all states passed implied consent laws, which state that by obtaining a driver's license, the driver consents to a chemical test for alcohol in their blood when requested by a law enforcement officer. Refusing to submit to the test will generally result in consequences for the driver including a suspension of their license.
Often, when a serious accident occurs, the drivers of other vehicles will stop at the scene to render aid. Many times, these individuals witnessed the accident or, at the very least, witnessed the behavior of the parties involved at the accident scene before the police arrived. The police officer at the scene will typically interview these witnesses and record their names and contact information. Witness testimony can be a powerful piece of evidence, depending on what the witness saw.
Videos of the Accident
Gone are the days when an accident had to be observed by other people for liability to be proven. Many intersections now have traffic cameras, and many businesses along the roadway have surveillance cameras. These cameras, though provided for a different purpose, can be powerful evidence in your drunk driving accident claim, as they can show exactly how the accident occurred and the behavior of the parties involved.
Another type of camera that often has important evidentiary footage is a body camera from the police officer. This camera records interactions between officers and citizens and can show the at-fault party's behavior during the interview or the field sobriety test.
Statements by the Driver
Alcohol impairment causes many deficits in the skills needed to safely operate a motor vehicle, including the ability to multitask, track moving targets, discern changes in traffic signals, maintain lane position and consistent speed, and decision-making. The deficits to a driver's judgment remain even after the driver has exited the vehicle, often causing them to make statements when being interviewed by an officer that they normally would be hesitant to make when sober.
Sometimes, a driver makes the evidence gathering easier by stating outright that they've been drinking. This statement generally results in their immediate arrest, followed by a chemical test to determine their impairment level.
A DUI Conviction
It is not unusual for those who have caused a drunk driving accident to defend themselves against criminal charges as well as personal injury claims. The arrest, investigation, charging, and conviction of the driver for violating the state's drunk driving laws are all components of the criminal process. Gathering evidence and medical documentation to show liability and justify the claim's value are part of the injury claims process.
While these two processes involve separate cases, if the driver is convicted of a DUI through the criminal process for the same accident that injured other roadway users, it is perhaps the most compelling evidence available for the injury claim.
The Most Important Action You Can Take to Collect the Evidence You Need
The evidence necessary to prove any personal injury claim can be extensive, and attempts to gather it can be overwhelming. Any video footage must be preserved as soon as possible to avoid being lost or overwritten.
The police don't like to share bodycam footage. The injured party can have difficulty learning how to obtain a police report, how to contact the witnesses who provided information included in the report, or even which information from the report is most useful in proving their claim.
Because of these reasons (and many more), one of the most important steps in collecting evidence after a drunk driving car accident is to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer.
The Benefits of Having an Attorney Help You With Your Claim
When you hire an experienced attorney to assist you with your claim, you bring years of education in personal injury law to the process. Your attorney knows the type of evidence needed to prove the claim and how to obtain it, as well as the evidence they must preserve if your claim goes to trial.
They know how to value your case based on the available evidence, and they have a team of legal professionals available to gather evidence that would be overwhelming for one person to gather alone.
Many individuals know they can collect evidence from the accident scene, including:
- The names, contact, and insurance information from all parties involved.
- Photographs from the accident scene, such as pictures of visible injuries incurred and damage to the vehicles involved.
- The names and contact information for any witnesses.
- A copy of the police report from the accident.
While this information can be extraordinarily helpful for the claimant's attorney when they begin their investigation, it is important to know that if you were unconscious or otherwise unable to gather evidence from the scene, your attorney has other means of collecting it.
Drunk Driving Accident Lawyers Will Conduct Their Own Investigation For You
There are often three separate investigations involved in a drunk driving accident. The police will investigate the accident to determine if the driver violated traffic laws. The at-fault party's insurance company will investigate to determine whether their insured is liable for compensating the expenses and effects of those injured in the accident.
Your drunk driving accident attorney will investigate to determine liability, available insurance resources, and the evidence to prove your claim.
Evidence Isn't Always About Liability
While evidence is required to prove that someone else was responsible for causing the accident that resulted in your injury, other evidence is needed to justify your claim's value.
If a drunk driving accident injures you, you can seek compensation for expenses such as medical costs, lost wages, lost earning capacity due to permanent injuries, and property damage. Additionally, claimants can seek compensation for the psychological effects of the injury, such as pain and suffering or emotional distress.
Each loss the claimant seeks requires documentary evidence, such as medical and auto repair bills, wage information, expert opinions regarding the severity and permanence of the injuries suffered, and even testimony from family or friends regarding the injury's emotional effect on the claimant's life.
Were you injured in a drunk driving accident in the Chicago area? Contact a personal injury law firm in Chicago for a free case evaluation and begin your financial recovery journey.