When a drunk driving auto accident occurs, you might assume that the drunk driver is the liable party. This is usually true, but it is also possible for a bar, or dram shop (which includes other entities, as well), to be held accountable and liable for your damages. This could be the institution which continued to serve someone alcohol after they were visibly intoxicated and also allowed the driver to leave in their own vehicle, and it could even be the host of a private party, depending on the situation, and where the person was when they became intoxicated. The reason that there are dram shop laws is because we want to encourage those who serve alcohol to be diligent and aware when it comes to preventing drunk driving accidents.
Because of this potential liability and the potential damage and deaths that drunk driving can cause, you need to always do everything you can to prevent anyone from driving drunk, especially if you are the one who was serving them alcohol. Serving alcoholic beverages, even in your own home, means that you are taking on some responsibility for making sure that nobody who gets drunk operates a vehicle. You may not realize, when you take someone’s keys, that you are saving their life, or the lives of others, but that could be exactly what you’re doing.
Understanding the Penalties Concerning Intoxicated Driving in the United States
Any time a drunk driver causes an auto accident in the US, they are subject to severe penalties. If it is their first time, and if the damages are not too bad, then they may face penalties that are less harsh than if they have a history of drunk driving or if someone ends up terribly injured or even killed by the negligence of the drunk driver.
Depending on the situation, the drunk driver might face a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge. The punishment can come with expensive fines, starting around $500, and sometimes as high as $10K. The driver may have their driver’s license suspended or revoked, usually for a period of three months to two years. The driver may also end up in jail or even prison or probation.
Dram Shop Laws Affecting Those Who Serve Alcohol in Indiana
When it comes to the liability of the dram shop, which could be anyone who sells or provides any alcohol, even those who are hosting parties from their own homes, not all states have laws that address this liability, but Indiana is one that does.
If you serve alcohol to others, you have a responsibility to stop serving them when they become obviously intoxicated and/or to stop them from driving when they are drunk. If you serve alcohol to another person, allowing them to become intoxicated (over the legal limit), and then allow them to get into a vehicle and drive away, then you could face liability in any auto accidents that are caused by the drunk driving.
What if the Driver is Just Buzzed and Not Really Drunk Driving?
It is a common mistake for people to assume that someone is not drunk, only buzzed. You may make this mistake when evaluating your own level of intoxication before driving or when evaluating the level of intoxication of someone else, whom you then allow to drive away. In fact, this mistake is much too common and causes many injuries and deaths each year. It is important, therefore, to understand that buzzed driving is drunk driving. If you are buzzed at all, then your BAC (blood alcohol content) is likely higher than the legal limit. You would be better off getting a ride from someone who is sober or just staying where you are.
Indiana was the first state in the United States to set a legal limit for a driver’s BAC, in 1939. It started with a BAC limit of .15%, which has now dropped to .08% as people around the US realized that even .15% was too high for a driver to be safe on the road. If you are pulled over, and your BAC is lower than .08%, you could still be arrested for driving while impaired. If your BAC is between .01% and if the officer thinks alcohol has impaired your driving. .07%, meaning that you are more buzzed than actually drunk, and if you cause an auto accident in this state, you can still be held legally responsible for the damages, injuries, and deaths that you may cause and you may be subject to criminal prosecution.
Legal BAC Limits in for Indiana Drivers
In Indiana, we have laws against OWI, operating a vehicle while intoxicated, and there are specific limits set for your BAC when driving, based on your age and occupation. We have already pointed out that the limit has changed over the years from .15% to .08%, and .08% is generally the standard throughout the US. However, if you are under the age of 21, or if you are a commercial vehicle driver, then the limits are different; they are lower.
For someone under the age of 21, the legal BAC limit is just .02%. A single drink could lead to serious repercussions for someone under 21 years old. If you are a commercial vehicle driver, and you are presently driving for commercial purposes, then the legal BAC limit is only .04%. It is also important to be aware that you may be acting perfectly sober, and even driving safely, but if you are caught with a BAC that exceeds the limit, you’re still going to face consequences.
What Do You Do if a Drunk Driver Causes Your Auto Accident?
When you or someone you love has been injured or killed because of an auto accident that was caused by a drunk driver, you do have legal paths to recovering compensation for your damages. It helps to know that the drunk driver will face legal consequences, but to get financial compensation for your losses, expenses, and various damages, you’ll need to file a claim. You might file a claim against the drunk driver and/or the dram shop that allowed that individual to become intoxicated and then to leave the location in a vehicle. It all depends on the details of your case, whether or not the at-fault driver has insurance, and whether or not their auto insurance policy is sufficient to cover the extent of your damages.
To learn more about your rights and options after a drunk driving auto accident, call the Indiana auto accident attorneys at Rowe & Hamilton attorneys. We’ll provide a free consultation, evaluate your case, and offer our advice in how to proceed. If you require legal representation, as most victims of drunk driving auto accidents do, we will be happy to assist you in filing your claim, evaluating and investigating the damages and circumstances of the incident, and recovering a fair sum of compensation for your losses.