Case Description: Drunk driver rear-ended another car, seriously injuring the driver and passengers
Location/Date: Fairfax County, Virginia (VA)/2008-2009
What Happened: Four friends were in a car when they were suddenly and violently smashed in the rear by a 40-something-year-old driver who had two teenagers in her car. When the police came to the scene, they detected a strong odor of alcohol coming off the woman who was the driver who rear-ended our clients’ car. After field sobriety tests were given, the at-fault driver was charged with second-offense drunk driving/DUI. The impaired drivers passenger were her own daugter and her daughter's friend. Not a great example.
Everyone in the rear-ended car was taken to the emergency room because of the massive impact of the collision. Each of our clients suffered injuries that required treatment over many months. Two of our four clients resided in North Carolina (NC), and the driver and his wife resided in Northern Virginia (VA), near where the accident happened in Vienna, VA.
Key Legal Strategy: Because we knew that the driver who smashed into the rear of our clients' car was totally at fault, we agreed to represent all four of the injured people in the car, which can present some problems because of a potential conflict of interest of having several persons in a car seeking recovery from the same source of insurance. First, we had one of our clients monitor the criminal charge for driving under the influence of alcohol against the defendant driver. Once we knew the criminal DUI case was resolved, we accessed public trial records in order to obtain the at-fault driver's official blood alcohol content and found that her BAC at the time of the accident had been .21, which is extremely intoxicated. Under Virginia's drunk driving laws, if any person is found to have a BAC in excess of a certain high level of intoxication, punitive, or punishment, damages may be awarded by a civil trial jury in addition to normal personal injury damages.
Next, we identified multiple sources of insurance for the DUI rear-end accident because the total insurance coverage the drunk driver had was not enough to compensate our clients for their damages and injuries. Accordingly, we notified each of our clients' car insurance companies that they may need to supply uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage. We also reminded our clients that claiming Um/UIM coverage would not increase their rates or make their premiums increase. Nearly every state prohibits insurance premium increases if the policyholder is not responsible for causing the accident that gave rise to a claim. This is exactly why we pay for insurance!
By claiming underinsured motorist coverage on one of the cases, involving the client who had the most considerable medical expenses, we were able to obtain an additional amount of money in order to settle the case.
Last, we made sure that the insurance adjusters received the BAC information. In our settlement negotiations we advised the insurance adjuster with a high degree of confidence that a jury would be extremely eager to punish the driver who was responsible for causing this accident, which was not a first-time DUI conviction for the driver. We also but reminded the insurer's counsel that punitive damages could be awarded by the jury in any of the four injury cases. To get the insurance company and drunk driver's attention, we filed suit on the most significant of the four cases.
Outcome: All four cases were resolved nearly at the same time. We were able to settle each of our clients' cases for the following amounts based on each plaintiff's personal injuries:
- Front Seat Passenger -- $20,000
- Driver -- $24,000
- Back Seat Passenger -- $26,000
- Second Back Seat Passenger -- Approximately $42,000
Firm Attorney and Saff: Richard N. Shapiro, Attorney; Roz Hughes, Paralegal; Meg Cudden, Legal Assistant