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What to Do if You’re Hit by a Drunk Driver in South Carolina

Offered by Goings Law Firm, LLC

Talk to a car accident lawyer about your legal options

Motorists have known about the dangers of drinking and driving for decades, yet some still choose to ignore the law. It’s a huge problem nationally, and particularly in South Carolina, which regularly ranks among the states with the most drunk driving accidents per capita.

If you’ve been hit by a drunk driver, you know firsthand that there’s a lot to do in the aftermath. You need to focus on healing and getting better, but there’s also much work to be done to get the financial compensation and closure you need. You might think your claim is clear-cut, especially if the driver who hit you is facing DUI charges, but that’s not always the case.

That’s where an experienced South Carolina drunk driving accident lawyer can make a meaningful difference.

Take immediate action at the accident scene to protect your legal rights

After a drunk driving accident, like any other car accident, your first step should be to call 911. Unless you must leave to get emergency medical attention, remain at the scene until the police arrive. Leaving the scene of a car accident that causes injury is a serious crime in South Carolina.

Unfortunately, drunk drivers often flee the scene. If that happens to you, try to get pictures of the license plate or a description of the vehicle, but don’t pursue a hit-and-run driver. Leave that to the police.

While you’re waiting for the police to arrive, take pictures of the scene and any visible injuries. Get names and contact information for any witnesses, as well as the name and badge number of the investigating officer when they arrive. Take note of any other relevant evidence – for instance, if the other driver slurs their words or you smell alcohol, definitely write that down.

Get medical attention as soon as possible after the accident. Tell your doctor that you were involved in a car accident and follow all of your doctor’s instructions. Then, contact an experienced attorney who can advise you of your legal rights and options, before you talk to the insurance company.

The difference between DUI charges and drunk driving lawsuits

Drunk driving is a serious crime in South Carolina. The police will investigate, and prosecutors may charge the driver who hit you with DUI (driving under the influence), DUAC (driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration), or another criminal traffic violation. However, it’s important to remember that the criminal justice system’s job is to hold drunk drivers responsible, not to compensate victims.

If you file a personal injury claim for damages, or a wrongful death claim if a loved one was killed by a drunk driver, that is a civil action. Any criminal charges handed down to the at-fault driver by the State of South Carolina are separate and distinct from any civil action you take to recover financial compensation for your losses.

Notably, the standard of proof is lower in civil court. For the drunk driver to be found guilty of a crime, the prosecution has to prove the elements of the criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt. However, to recover compensation in civil court, you merely need to prove the at-fault driver was responsible for your injuries by a “preponderance of the evidence” – a legal term that basically means “more likely than not,” or anything greater than 50% probability.

Practically speaking, this means you can win your civil case even if the drunk driver is acquitted or the charges are dropped in criminal court.

In some circumstances, you can also pursue a “dram shop” liability claim

A “dram shop” claim is a claim against a business (such as a bar or restaurant) that served alcohol to the drunk driver who caused your injury. South Carolina does not have a specific dram shop statute, but the South Carolina Supreme Court has authorized dram shop claims in two circumstances:

  • The vendor served alcohol to an underage patron (that is, someone under the legal drinking age of 21), or
  • The vendor continued to serve alcohol to someone who was already visibly intoxicated.

Proving that a drunk driver was visibly intoxicated when they were served alcohol often requires an in-depth investigation and witness testimony. Security camera footage, if available, can also be evidence of visible intoxication. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to get an experienced drunk driving accident attorney to investigate your claim promptly.

South Carolina law also allows victims to sue social hosts who served alcohol to under-21 guests under some circumstances. However, you generally cannot sue a social host for serving someone who was of legal drinking age, even if they were visibly intoxicated.

What is my drunk driving lawsuit worth?

A drunk driving lawsuit is a civil claim for damages (financial compensation) intended to make you financially whole again after an accident. Some of the costs that should be included are:

  • Medical expenses, including ambulance fees, hospital bills, surgery, medication, medical devices, physical therapy, and other costs.
  • Lost wages and lost future earnings if you cannot work due to your injuries.
  • Replacement services such as childcare and housework.
  • Pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish.
  • Property damage, including the diminished value of your vehicle.

In situations where the drunk driver was egregiously negligent – for instance, if they were far over the legal limit or driving exceptionally recklessly – punitive damages may also be awarded to victims as a way to punish the at-fault party. Sometimes, punitive damages are referred to as “exemplary” damages.

If a loved one was killed by a drunk driver, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit

Unfortunately, far too many drunk driving victims don’t walk away from the scene of the accident. If you lost a loved one, you have the option of filing a wrongful death lawsuit – essentially a personal injury claim on behalf of someone who has died.

In South Carolina, spouses and children are generally the beneficiaries of wrongful death lawsuits. If there is no spouse or child, the parents of the deceased may be eligible for wrongful death benefits. When there is no spouse, children, or parents, “heirs-at-law” (that is, next of kin) may be able to benefit.

While families of the deceased are the beneficiaries of wrongful death lawsuits, the lawsuit itself can only be filed by the executor or administrator of the victim’s estate. This person may be identified in the deceased person’s estate plans or appointed by the probate court. The executor can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of surviving family members.

Whether it’s obtained through a negotiated settlement or a successful court verdict, wrongful death compensation can cover:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Lost wages and household contributions (present and future)
  • Emotional distress and mental anguish
  • Loss of companionship
  • Lost benefits

The estate may also file a “survival action,” which is intended to pay for damages sustained by the deceased person before their death, such as medical expenses and pain and suffering during their final period of injury or illness. An experienced attorney can advise whether a wrongful death lawsuit, survival action, or both are appropriate in your circumstances.

You have a limited amount of time to take legal action

Civil lawsuits are subject to the statute of limitations – that is, a legal time limit. In South Carolina, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within three years of the incident (in this case, the drunk driving crash), and a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within three years of the victim’s death.

And while three years may seem like a lot of time to take legal action, waiting too long could negatively impact your lawsuit and the compensation you’re eligible to recover. Over time, evidence can disappear, the memories of witnesses can fade, and your case can weaken. To build the strongest case possible, a drunk driving accident attorney needs time to thoroughly investigate the accident, the surrounding circumstances, and the financial cost. The sooner you get an attorney involved, the better.

Find the right South Carolina drunk driving accident attorney

While you’re not legally required to have an attorney to negotiate with an insurance company or file a lawsuit against a drunk driver, it’s almost always in your interest to do so. The insurance companies have attorneys and adjusters representing their interests, and if you try to deal with them alone, it’s not a fair fight. An experienced lawyer can even the odds.

The best drunk driving accident attorneys have the knowledge, experience, and resources to fight for your best interests, move your case forward, and aggressively advocate for the results you deserve. Make sure the lawyer you hire is familiar with the South Carolina legal system and has a track record of results.

If you or a loved one was hit by a drunk driver in South Carolina, be sure to protect your legal rights. Schedule your free and confidential consultation with an experienced South Carolina car accident attorney today.

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Goings Law Firm, LLC was founded by attorney Robert F. Goings in 2011 to fight for the rights of the injured in South Carolina. Our attorneys provide personal attention to clients...