Drunk Driving Accidents: Dangers and Liability in Pennsylvania Explained -

Understanding Your Rights After Drunk Driving Car Accidents in Ardmore, PA

car accident lawyer Philadelphia, PADrunk driving is one of the most avoidable and preventable causes of personal injuries. However, despite being universally condemned, drunk driving is still a major threat on our roadways. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), every 50 minutes a person is wrongfully killed by an intoxicated driver in the United States. This equates to roughly 10,500 wrongful deaths each year. Tragically, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that over 1,200 of these deaths are to innocent children under the age of 14. Specifically in just Pennsylvania, there are approximately 9,300 alcohol-related crashes each year and about 300 deaths that account for 28% of all traffic-related fatalities.

But these statistics are not just numbers, they are victims and families who have been unfairly impacted. The NHTSA and CDC numbers both report medical bills and damages over $40 billion each year. These are the costs of doctor appointments, surgeries, lost wages, lost earnings, and loss of consortium between spouses, as well as significant pain and suffering. Nearly all of these expenses could have been prevented too.

At Silver & Silver, our experienced auto accident lawyers in Ardmore, PA witness first-hand the devastation and damages from drunk driving accidents. We know how it truly impacts victims and their families, especially when there are life-changing consequences. Unfortunately, we also know that insurance companies and defense lawyers fight back hard against victims and undervalue, blame the victim, or even deny otherwise valid claims.

We are here to help. We will not let insurance companies and their lawyers defend the negligent actions of a dangerous driver in Pennsylvania. If you have been injured by a motorist under the influence of alcohol or drugs, let’s take a closer look at how you may be entitled to compensation under the law.

Drunk Driving Laws in Pennsylvania 

A victim of any motor vehicle accident or personal injury incident must prove liability or fault. There are two bodies of law when it comes to proving a motor vehicle accident case due to an intoxicated driver. These are separate causes of actions, or claims, in a lawsuit. Both are based on the concept of “negligence,” or when there is a failure to use reasonable care to avoid causing foreseeable harm to another. Victims can bring both types of claims in a single lawsuit, usually proving one or both.

Common Law Approach (Most Common)

The first way to establish liability is through the common law. This is a type of judge-made law that has evolved over years of judicial decision-making. In the case of negligence, it has evolved over centuries and even has roots back to British common law. With negligence, the common law is very flexible because it is built on a “reasonableness” concept of determining whether a person has a duty of care owed to others.

Even though it is a flexible standard, that does not mean negligence is not well-defined. Under Pennsylvania law, all motorists owe a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances in the use or operation of their motor vehicle. This means that all motorists must avoid exposing others to the foreseeable risk of harm.

One of the most obvious foreseeable risks of harm is operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. A drunk driver who causes a car accident resulting in personal injuries to another is likely acting negligently under the common law. This means a victim can usually establish liability.

Negligence Per Se

The second way to establish liability is through the doctrine of negligence per se. This requires that a statute has been violated. A statute is a law that is legislatively-made through formal rule-making processes. This means it is “in the rulebook” or a “law on the books.”

Unlike negligence above which requires a party to prove the failure to act reasonably, negligence per se acknowledges that some actions are always negligent like violating a traffic law. Thus, a plaintiff that establishes negligence per se can automatically prove liability against the defendant.

In order to prove negligence per se, a plaintiff must establish each of these four elements:

  1. The statute was intended to protect the plaintiff individually as opposed to the public at large (the plaintiff was in the class of persons to be protected)
  2. The statute must clearly apply to the conduct of the defendant
  3. the defendant must violate the statute, and
  4. the violation of the statute must be the proximate cause or substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.

All four of these elements must be established in order for liability to be automatic for the violation of a statute.

Negligence Per Se of a Drunk Driver in Pennsylvania

The applicable statute for negligence per se to apply to a drunk driving accident in Pennsylvania is 75 Pa. C. S. section 3802, which has two sections to impose liability.

Subsection (a) (1) prohibits an individual from driving or operating a moving vehicle after consuming “a sufficient amount of alcohol such that the individual is rendered incapable of safely” driving or operating the vehicle. This analysis is harder to prove with negligence per se because it will require proof to establish the ability of the intoxicated motorist, usually done through law enforcement or experts. This is a credibility assessment commonly reserved for a judge or jury at trial.

However, subsection (a) (2) is stronger for a victim of a car accident to use the negligence per se doctrine. This subsection prohibits an individual from driving or operating a moving vehicle with a BAC level above .08%. Therefore, if a defendant caused your drunk driving accident and has a BAC above .08%, it is very likely that the doctrine of negligence per se will automatically establish liability for you in Pennsylvania.

Can I Handle a Motor Vehicle Wreck Case Myself?

Great—so you may be able to establish negligence in your case against an intoxicated motorist. In fact, the defendant had a BAC over .08% so your case should be automatic, right? Can’t you handle it yourself?

Yes you can, but that would be almost guaranteeing that you would receive less compensation than you deserve.

There are defenses to negligence and even negligence per se, including defenses that could completely bar your claim. Some of these defenses are universal such as the statute of limitations period to commence a lawsuit. Other defenses are unique to negligence or negligence per se. Unfortunately, insurance companies specifically train their insurance adjusters to minimize or deny valid car accident claims. Most of these training programs are done by leading defense lawyers and law firms. This means negotiating a car accident claim by yourself against an insurance adjuster is simply not fair.

We Can Help Protect Your Rights

No matter how careful you are on the roadway, you simply cannot control the control of other individuals. As statistics from the NHTSA, CDC, and Pennsylvania government show, there is a significant number of drunk driving accidents that cause catastrophic or fatal injuries to innocent people each day.

If you were injured by a motorist who was intoxicated or under the influence, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and of course your pain and suffering. Learn how one of our experienced auto accident lawyers in Ardmore, PA at Silver & Silver can help you during a FREE consultation.