Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is recklessly irresponsible, yet many people are injured and killed in car accidents, truck accidents, and motorcycle accidents, caused by drunk drivers every year.
Drunk driving accidents are often made even more dangerous because intoxicated drivers have a slowed reaction time and may not be able to take corrective action as quickly as a sober driver could. In South Carolina, drunk drivers are subject to criminal penalties for their actions.
Fortunately for victims, drunk drivers are also civilly liable for harm they cause, and victims may be able to recover compensation for their injuries in a personal injury suit.
Legal Blood Alcohol Content in South Carolina
Driving under the influence is a crime in South Carolina and depends on a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC). If a driver’s BAC, which can be determined by breathalyzer, blood, or urine testing, exceeds the legal limit, the driver can be charged with a criminal offense.
The legal limits for BAC in South Carolina are:
- 08 percent for those aged 21 or older operating non-commercial vehicles;
- 04 percent for operators of commercial vehicles over the age of 21; and
- 02 percent for drivers under the age of 21.
Whether a driver will be charged with DUI does not depend on whether the driver believes him or herself to be capable of operating a motor vehicle safely despite having a few drinks. Additionally, if a driver causes injury to another while driving under the influence, it can lead to civil liability in a personal injury action.
Even if the driver’s BAC did not exceed the legal limit, it does not mean that he or she can escape liability or that the victim will not recover damages. Recovering damages in a personal injury case is easier if the victim can show that the driver committed DUI at the time of the accident. If the victim cannot prove a DUI, however, he or she can still recover compensation by showing that the driver was impaired. Any amount of impairment can serve as evidence that the driver was negligent and that that negligence caused the accident. However, the victim must provide evidence of impairment other than a DUI in order to recover.
Holding a Drunk Driver Liable for Injuries
Sometimes, another’s negligent actions also contributed to the intoxicated driver being on the road and injuring the victim. There are several legal theories under which a third party other than the intoxicated driver may be held liable for damage caused by the drunk driver.
South Carolina’s dram shop law applies to a bar or restaurant that served alcohol to:
- A minor under the age of 21; or
- A noticeably intoxicated adult who drove.
Then, if the minor or intoxicated adult later caused an accident, the bar or restaurant can be held liable and be required to pay damages to the victim. This is because the bar or restaurant reasonably should foresee a young or intoxicated person would consume the alcohol they served him or her, drive drunk, and injure someone.
Social host liability may exist for individuals providing alcohol to minors under age 21 at parties or other events. A social host includes an individual host, club, employer, fraternity, etc. But there is no social host liability in South Carolina for providing alcohol to adults, even if they are visibly intoxicated.
Under a theory of negligent entrustment, a victim may recover damages from the owner of a vehicle driven by an intoxicated person. The vehicle owner may be held liable if he or she allows someone to use the vehicle who was intoxicated, or if the vehicle owner knew that the driver was likely to become intoxicated.
Negligence Per Se
Violation of South Carolina’s DUI law can be considered negligence per se in a personal injury case. This means that committing a DUI is negligent as a matter of law. To recover damages, the victim does not have to do anything further to prove negligence than to prove that the driver violated the law. Then, as long as the harm suffered was of the sort that the statute intended to protect against, for example, a victim of a car accident caused by a drunk driver, the driver is per se negligent. The victim then must only prove that the negligence proximately caused the accident.
Compensation Available for Injured Victims of Drunk Driving Accidents in Columbia
Victims of drunk driving accidents may be entitled to both economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages are intended to reimburse the victim for the out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the accident. This may include medical bills, therapy and rehabilitation costs, lost wages, and other economic costs.
Noneconomic damages are designed to compensate the victim for intangible losses. For example, this category may include compensation for pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, emotional distress, loss of services, and loss of enjoyment of life.
A victim in a drunk driving accident in South Carolina may also be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are rare in personal injury cases, and are intended to punish the negligent or reckless party and to serve as a deterrent. Because driving drunk is such egregiously reckless behavior, however, they are sometimes awarded in drunk driving accident cases.
Punitive damages are awarded only at the jury’s discretion. Whether punitive damages are awarded will generally depend on the level of intoxication, the severity of the accident, whether any third party contributed to the accident, and any mitigating factors.
Get Help from a Columbia Drunk Driving Law Firm
At the Joye Law Firm, we have been advocating for accident victims in South Carolina since 1968. Several of our attorneys have received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell, been named Super Lawyers, and have earned other awards and honors.
Some of our outstanding results include:
- A $5.9 million settlement for a victim who suffered brain injuries in a collision;
- A $500,000 verdict for a back injury sustained in a wreck; and
- A $1.9 million settlement for the -family of a child hit and killed by a car.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver in Columbia, our attorneys are here to help you. Please contact the Columbia personal injury lawyers at the Joye Law Firm for a free and confidential initial consultation.