Public awareness campaigns and laws have decreased the occurrence of injuries and deaths from alcohol-related crashes, but casualties and fatalities are still unfortunately common in the U.S. In 2015, 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, constituting nearly one-third (29 percent) of all traffic-related deaths. Nearly 1.1 million drivers were arrested nationwide for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics that year.
In Ohio, 3,637 people were killed between 2003 and 2012 in crashes involving a drunk driver. Ohio law calls driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs “operating a vehicle under the influence,” or OVI. The law sets limits for the impermissible amounts of alcohol, heroin, marijuana, LSD, and other drugs. Under the law, any driver with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher is considered alcohol-impaired if over the age of 21; under 21, drivers with a BAC of 0.02 percent may be subject to conviction. Commercial drivers cannot legally operate a vehicle if they have a BAC of 0.04 percent or more.
If you’ve been involved in an auto accident where the other driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you deserve compensation.
Ohio Drunk Driving Laws
The criminal laws of the State of Ohio provide for harsh penalties against driving under the influence.
- A first offense is a criminal conviction, punishable by imprisonment of at least three days up to six months. It also comes with a fine of at least $250, up to $1000 (plus court costs), and a suspension of your driver’s license for at least six months and as long as three years.
- A second offense within six years will result in imprisonment of between 10 days and one year, as well as fines between $350 and $1500 (plus court costs), and a license suspension of 1 to 5 years.
- A third offense within six years results in incarceration of between 30 days and one year, as well as fines between $350 and $1500 (plus court costs), a suspension of your driver’s license for 1 to 10 years, and the installation of an interlock ignition device. This device measures alcohol on the driver’s breath and keeps the car from starting if the driver has a BAC above a certain level, usually 0.02 percent.
- A fourth offense carries penalties between 60 days and one year’s incarceration, as well as fines of between $800 and $10,000 (plus court costs), a suspension of your license for at least three years (up to permanently), and the installation of an interlock ignition device.
Ohio has an “implied consent” law, which mandates that drivers consent to a chemical test for drugs or alcohol. Failure to submit to this test can result in a fine and automatic suspension of your license.
Fault, Liability, and Recovery
The state of Ohio has a “fault-based system” for automobile accident cases. This means that a judge or jury will decide who was legally at fault in the event of a car crash and hold that driver (or another party) liable for damages (i.e., compensation for injuries or property damage). You cannot recover compensation for your injuries or any other damages unless you can prove that another party was liable for the collision that caused them.
Evidence that a driver was driving while impaired can be important when evaluating fault. A judge, jury, or arbitrator will look at all available evidence, determine the cause or causes of the occurrence that caused your injuries, and assign fault as appropriate.
Since Ohio subscribes to the doctrine of “contributory fault,” however, if your actions or inactions were partly to blame for the accident or your injuries, your recovery may be reduced—even if the other driver was operating a vehicle under the influence. If a drunk driver rear-ended you, for example, while you were following all of the rules of the road, that driver likely would be found liable, and you would recover the full value of your damages. If you were operating a vehicle with inactive brake lights and stopped suddenly without warning, however, the court may find you partially at fault for the collision and reduce your damages award proportionately. If a court finds you are more responsible for the accident than all other parties combined, you may not be entitled to recover.
Damages in Cases Involving Drunk or Impaired Drivers
An injured plaintiff can recover amounts that compensate you for your injuries, called “economic” damages (direct reimbursement for medical bills, wage loss, and other related expenses) as well as “non-economic” damages (compensation for loss of enjoyment, pain and suffering, and other less tangible losses).
“Punitive” damages are also allowed by Ohio law in a limited number of circumstances where the defendant’s actions (or failure to act) “demonstrated malice, aggravated, or egregious fraud, oppression or insult.” Past successful cases have involved driving under the influence with particularly high BACs or levels of impairment. Punitive damages are intended to punish and “make an example” out of someone—to levy high fines that discourage the behavior both for that individual and the general public. This can dramatically increase an injured victim’s recovery in a car accident involving a drunk driver.
Additionally, Ohio personal injury law allows victims who have been injured by drunk drivers to bring a claim against a bartender or bar owner who provided alcohol to a drunk driver when he or she was clearly intoxicated. These are called “dram shop laws” and can extend liability and enhance potential avenues of recovery for an injured victim.
Why You Should Hire an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer
If you’ve been hit by a drunk driver, you should contact an attorney right away. A lawyer with experience in personal injury cases can evaluate the facts of your case and advise you on the best course of action to ensure you receive the most compensation possible. This may include recovering costs for past and future medical care, wage loss, pain and suffering, and, potentially, punitive damages. A seasoned attorney – like the experienced lawyers at Obral, Silk & Associates, LLC – can help investigate the cause of the collision, ensure that you receive the treatment you need, and pursue alternative sources of recovery so you receive all the compensation you deserve for your injuries.