Intoxicated drivers are involved in more than 10,000 car crash deaths and hundreds of thousands of serious injuries every year. If you have suffered an injury or, even worse, experienced the loss of a loved one, you might wonder, “What is an average drunk driving accident settlement worth in Minnesota?” In truth, since every car accident * is different, there is no “average” settlement amount. Settlements vary based upon provable losses and how the crash occurred, even when an alcohol-impaired driver causes the crash.
If you’ve been injured in a drunk driving crash or lost a loved one in a wreck caused by an intoxicated driver, hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer is the first, crucial step you can to take towards achieving your best financial outcome. While settlement short of trial is typically achievable in drunk driving claims, you need to retain an attorney who has the knowledge and financial resources to see your case all the way through a trial, if necessary. A good drunk driving accident attorney will handle the insurance companies, allowing you to focus on recovering and rebuilding your life.
When a life-altering injury is caused by an intoxicated driver, it’s an emotional strain, especially having to deal with the knowledge that the crash could have been avoided had the other driver not chosen to drink and drive. As medical bills pile up and income drops because you can’t return to work, frustration and a sense of injustice increases. While even a high-dollar settlement can’t “make up” for a catastrophic injury or a permanent impairment, getting the best possible settlement in a drunk driving accident claim can at least provide the means to keep yourself and your family financially afloat.
Many factors play into the value of a drunk driving death claim or injury claim. The dollar amount of a settlement offer will be based, in part, usually on a victim’s:
- Education level
- Earnings, past and future
- Severity of the injuries
- Permanent injury
- Physical or emotional distress beyond the initial incident
- Partial fault on the part of the victim
These variables may be included in a forensic economist’s calculation of a victim’s likely lifetime earnings and expenses had the crash not happened. Calculations including sex and age are based upon government tables and statistical analyses of demographics of similar victims.
Jury biases and historical insurance industry biases against certain classes of claimants, make it crucial that injury victims hire an attorney who is highly experienced in negotiating drunk driving settlements or trying drunk driving crash cases. A lawyer who has successfully seen cases through trial on behalf of a number of clients is in a much stronger position to achieve fair compensation for his or her clients.
While an insurer may tender its policy limits if a crash results in injuries that clearly exceed its insured’s coverage, it is unusual for an insurance carrier to willingly offer to pay full settlement value for a loss where there is adequate coverage, even if its insured was intoxicated at the time of the crash. Your lawyer will negotiate with the drunk driver’s insurer to recover the best possible outcome for you.
Driving over the limit is a criminal act and Minnesota judges will commonly allow claim for punitive damages against a drunk driver to proceed at trial. While state law does not require a DWI conviction to seek punitive damages, a drunk driving conviction or a conviction for criminal vehicular homicide or injury is evidence sufficient to support an award of punitive damages. (Source: MN Statute 169A.76)
Beyond just settling with the insurance carrier, there are other avenues for compensation in a crash caused by a drunk driver, including recovering punitive damages against the impaired driver if the claim actually goes to trial. “Punitive” damages are different from the other types of compensation discussed above, which are intended to make a victim as “whole” as possible by repaying actual losses. Punitive damages exist to punish an individual’s bad behavior, as well as to deter others from similar behavior.
Before a victim can seek an award of punitive damages, however, the underlying trial must conclude and the presiding judge must determine that there’s sufficient evidence that the defendant’s actions went far beyond mere negligence, and that his/her actions showed a willful indifference to the rights and safety of others. If so, the claim is allowed to proceed in a second phase of the trial. In that second phase, evidence is presented to a jury, including evidence of the defendant’s means, so that the jury can decide an amount of punitive damages tailored to the severity of the claim and the individual characteristics of the defendant driver.
Dram Shop Claims
Often, the crucial source of compensation in a drunk driving injury case is a dram shop claim. This is a claim against a bar or liquor store that has illegally furnished alcohol to someone who is obviously intoxicated or forbidden by law to purchase alcohol, like a minor. If that person goes on to harm another at least partially as a result of his or her intoxication, the insurer for the bar or liquor store is liable for damages. An experienced personal injury attorney will investigate whether a bar or other provider of alcohol may be liable for a crash. It is not unusual to have to try these cases, especially if there are no strong witnesses of the illegal service of the alcohol.
Suk Law Firm has focused exclusively on personal injury and wrongful death cases since 1988. Attorney Jim Suk has a long record of obtaining favorable settlements and verdicts for his clients in southeast Minnesota, including multi-million-dollar dram shop claims. One reason for his success in doing so is a reputation for seeing cases all the way through trial, when necessary, to obtain an optimum recovery. Contact us today – we are ready to assist you.
Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.
*A note about language:
Federal agencies involved in traffic safety have banned use of the word “accident” for more than 20 years, and with good reason. However, we use the word “accident” on our website, even though we know it has implications that run contrary to our professional thinking and training, because we recognize that “accident” is the word most commonly used in online searches when people are looking for help after being injured in a crash. If you’d like more information about this topic, please see our blog, “Car Accident or Car Crash?”