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Can You Sue a Drunk Driver in North Carolina?


If you are seriously injured by a drunk driver, then you may have the right to pursue a civil action against that person, claiming compensation for the damages you have suffered as a result of the accident.

Suing a drunk driver is actually more common than you might realize. However, you can’t trust the insurance company to just voluntarily pay you the full compensation you deserve for your injuries.

Contact an experienced Fayetteville personal injury attorney today to find out what steps you should take to protect your rights after a drunk driving accident.

Whose Insurance Covers a Drunk Driving Accident?

North Carolina is a fault-based insurance state. This means that, unlike so-called “no-fault” states where injured people must first file a claim with their own insurance company, in North Carolina, injured people can directly file their claims against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

This rule makes sense when you think about it. After all, it’s only fair that the person who caused the harm should be the person whose insurance company is forced to pay. Of course, just because the rule makes sense does not mean the insurance companies will pay claims with no questions asked.

Many times, insurance companies raise strange and even absurd defenses in order to avoid having to pay valid drunk driving accident claims. This is why it’s important to trust an experienced legal team who can help guide you through the process and make sure you are treated fairly.

Evidence in Drunk Driving Accident Claims

There are a lot of things that can qualify as “evidence” in a car accident case. When an intoxicated driver is at-fault, there are often additional, specific types of evidence that can make or break your case. For instance, you and your attorney will want to gather the following types of evidence as soon as possible:

  • Official police crash reports may indicate the other driver was intoxicated
  • Dash cam videos of the defendant stumbling or failing a field sobriety test
  • Audio or video evidence from the officer’s body cam, capturing admissions by the defendant
  • Accident reconstruction reports from professional analysts
  • Surveillance tapes or videos
  • Witness statements from those who may have observed signs of intoxication
  • Statements from passengers
  • Blood-alcohol level or blood test results
  • Other items found on the driver’s body or in his or her car that indicate drinking and driving
  • Insurance information from all parties involved

In addition to these things, if a drunk driver is involved, then the criminal case can play a big role. For example, if the driver pleads guilty to drunk driving in the criminal DUI case, this can be used to prove that he or she was indeed intoxicated at the time of the crash. This becomes one less element that you have to prove in your civil case.

Typical Insurance Defenses to Drunk Driving Accidents

Insurance companies don’t make money by paying out claims. Instead, they find clever ways to deny payment. Here are a few common arguments insurance companies use to avoid paying, even when the other driver was completely intoxicated:

  • Yes, the driver was drunk, but the victim was at fault.
  • Yes, the driver was drunk, but intoxication had nothing to do with the accident.
  • Yes, the driver was drunk, but the victim is making up for his or her injuries.
  • Yes, the driver was drunk, but the victim isn’t hurt as badly as he or she says.

An experienced personal injury lawyer will reject these flawed arguments and fight fiercely to prove your case.

Who Else May Be Liable for a Drunk Driving Accident?

While the impaired driver is typically the primary cause of a crash, others may also be responsible for your resulting personal injury. For instance, others may be liable in cases involving:

Businesses that service alcohol

In North Carolina, there are laws that protect the public from negligent and careless bars, restaurants, and taverns that knowingly serve alcohol to people who are clearly intoxicated. This law is known as the Dram Shop Law.

Dram shop laws are fairly straightforward, but they can get a bit complicated when trying to hold a shopkeeper responsible. According to Section 18B-305 of the North Carolina Statutes, it is actually unlawful for a business to serve alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated. This may seem a bit odd, considering people typically go to bars for the very purpose of indulging. However, the law is clear about this. It’s also unlawful to buy alcohol for someone who has been refused service under this law, and it’s illegal to serve alcohol to someone under the age of 21.

So, in addition to a drunk driver, a shop owner or bartender who continues to serve alcohol to a clearly intoxicated person may be liable if that intoxicated person leaves the establishment and causes harm to others by reason of the intoxication.

Vehicle owners

Don’t forget that many drunk drivers cause wrecks in other people’s vehicles. If the drunk driver who hits you is driving someone else’s vehicle, then that vehicle owner may be liable. This is a fairly narrow rule known as “negligent entrustment,” but it basically says that if a person knowingly permits a drunk person to operate their vehicle on the roadways, and this results in a serious injury or death, then that owner may be responsible as well.

Sometimes, a vehicle owner will claim they didn’t know the person was drunk or they will claim they did not really let the person drive their vehicle. An experienced auto accident lawyer will be able to help you spot flaws in these arguments in order to help preserve your right to compensation.

Our Experienced Fayetteville Auto Accident Lawyer Can Help

With offices in Fayetteville, Goldsboro, and Kinston, the skilled attorneys of Strickland Agner Pittman have spent their careers fighting to obtain justice for injured people all over the state of North Carolina. With three convenient offices, we make it easy for you to meet with one of our respected attorneys and discuss your case.

We never collect a fee unless we are able to recover on your behalf, and since initial consultations are always free, there is no risk of calling to discuss your case. There is entirely no obligation. But remember that time is limited. If you delay, you could forever lose your right to compensation.

Contact us to schedule your personalized and completely confidential free consultation today.