The damage and harm caused by drunk-driving accidents are not unfamiliar. Across all 50 states and every week, another accident occurs that results in serious harm, significant property damage, and even mortality of parties involved in these accidents. No surprise, cities, and states have passed numerous laws that have increased the penalties for those found guilty of drunk driving and causing a harmful accident, or even those caught driving under the influence in general. Philadelphia, PA, is no exception, and the laws of Pennsylvania continue to be revised for more punitive reactions as the number of cases continues. This is where help from a Philly car accident attorney makes a big difference in recovery for injured parties.
The DUI Accident Statistics are Alarming
In 2018, for example, Pennsylvania realized over 9,800 different alcohol-involved vehicle accidents across the state. Out of that number, over 330 fatalities occurred. More striking, the same number makes up a third of the mortality figure the state had overall for deaths from vehicle accidents the same year. In other words, one out of three people killed on the roads in Pennsylvania in 2018 died due to the fault of a drunk driver or a driver under the influence. Worse, that figure was entirely preventable. Nobody requires anyone to drive drunk or under the influence. Nobody forced a driver to get behind their steering wheel, turn on the ignition and drive a multi-ton vehicle out of control. It happened because those drivers did so willingly and could have chosen not to. That’s the most striking aspect of the related loss of life.
Pennsylvania’s Low Tolerance Level for DUI
The State of Pennsylvania defines driving under the influence of alcohol by blood alcohol content. For an illegal driving situation, a BAC must measure at or greater than 0.08 percent. It’s not a very large figure. In fact, the amount can be reached in one drink, depending on a person’s body weight. However, what’s more important to understand is that there is a sliding scale involved; the greater a person’s BAC on arrest, the harsher the punishment is that is applied during a DUI arrest.
The penalties involved break down as follows:
- First-time offense – This is the lowest level of a BAC violation. It’s punished with an incarceration sentence of up to 6 months jail time or a monetary fine of up to $300.
- Second and more offenses – In addition to the above penalty, the defendant can be put under the restriction of a car ignition lock that only works if the driver breathes clear of alcohol or under the minimum BAC amount.
- High BAC offense – Where a violation involves a DUI in the highest range of a BAC, the defendant could be hit with a penalty of incarceration up to five years in length as well as a monetary sentence of up to $10,000. Note that both can be applied in the same sentencing; it’s not an either-or punishment.
Because of the clear definitions of BAC that apply, a Philly car accident attorney can easily apply civil liability as well, given the evidence already created by the criminal court process in related violations.
Alternative Sentencing is Possible, But it Doesn’t Absolve Responsibility.
Defendants have the option of trying to help themselves, especially where they are willing to recognize they have a problem with alcohol that threatens themselves and the community. In these instances, a defendant can agree to go through an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ADR. This alternative approach directs the defendant to a specific treatment program. In the meantime, the defendant is on legal probation status, which can be revoked under the simplest of violations. Sentencing is suspended while the defendant is completing the treatment, which can include community service as well as still paying fines. On successful completion of an ADR, the defendant will be allowed to avoid incarceration, and the DUI offense is wiped off their criminal record. For those who take the ADR option seriously, it really is a second chance where they otherwise face a serious conviction on the criminal side of the law.
How Drunk Drivers Are Held Responsible in Civil Court
Normally, the State of Pennsylvania applies a “choice” no-fault insurance approach to car accidents. In a typical no-fault scenario, the drivers involved work through their own insurance coverage, which everyone is already required to have, and recovery is handled via the same. However, in Pennsylvania, drivers in an accident can choose to go with no fault, or they can pay more and retain the ability to sue the other party for damages. No-fault provides a limited cap on pain and suffering, but traditional coverage allows for full damage recovery and punitive damages as well. Drunk driving is one of the few exceptions to the restrictions above.
First off, where there is a case for negligence, the plaintiff can seek damages from a defendant driver if the plaintiff’s responsibility in the case was less than 51 percent, based on the facts and evidence. If there is an award, it is reduced by the percentage of self-blame or plaintiff’s responsibility in the case.
In any situation holding a drunk driver responsible, the plaintiff has a set amount of time to file legal damages in a lawsuit. This is known as a statute of limitations. The State of Pennsylvania is shorter than other states, allowing only two years for a lawsuit to be filed versus three in other jurisdictions. Once past that date, the case can be thrown out by a court as past the statute of limitations date.
Obtaining the Right Representation
A Philly car accident attorney can be a key resource in terms of obtaining a recovery in a drunk-driving accident, especially where you are the victim of a preventable situation. Further, where doable, another party who has engaged in drunk driving and caused you to harm should be kept responsible for their actions. There is no equity or good served by your suffering, dealing with medical bills not covered by your own insurance, or worse, someone you love has lost their life at the hands of a drunk driver’s mistake.