At the scene of a car accident, it is not always clear who is at fault and liable for damages and injuries. A variety of factors, including driving speed, road conditions, and compliance with laws, all play a part in determining who gets cited. Does driving under the influence mean that you will be held responsible for the crash even if the other driver caused the accident? Keep reading to see what our legal and insurance experts think.
If the insurance company found a sober driver to be responsible for damages to a driver who was under the influence at the time of the loss, the insurance company of the sober driver would pay those damages. If the impaired driver filed suit against the sober driver’s carrier (the lawsuits are really against the insurance company, as that is where the liability coverage comes from), I doubt that an adjuster would recommend not paying. If a reasonable demand was presented to the insurance company and the proper amounts of coverage were in place, the insurance company would pay the claim.
If there is no insurance coverage and the impaired driver took the claim to court, I believe they would likely be able to secure a judgment against the sober driver. If the sober driver were the proximate cause for the loss, they would be liable for the damages. (You really have to wonder what good it would do to take them to court. If they don’t have insurance, they likely don’t have money to pay the judgment).
While the sober driver would ultimately be responsible for the damages to the impaired driver, that would not protect the impaired driver from the legal consequences associated with driving while intoxicated or under the influence.
Driving under the influence
A sober driver that causes an accident will likely not be held liable if the other driver was drunk. A person that is driving while intoxicated is presumed liable even if not technically at fault. It is important to recognize that apportioning fault and liability is a matter of art, not science. The law regards driving under the influence as a contributory negligence factor that will place most all of the liability on the intoxicated person. This is because the law looks extremely unfavorably towards the act of drinking and driving.
Here in California, the party who caused the accident is at fault (e.g., the sober driver). The injured party (e.g., the drunk driver) might be at fault too if his intoxication contributed to the accident. That’s known as comparative negligence. For example, if a jury gives $100,000 as damages to the injured party and finds that the injured party is 20% at fault for the accident, then the damages are reduced by 20% to $80,000.
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