Despite the crackdown on drinking and driving, New Mexico consistently ranks very high nationally for DWI/DUI car accidents. The State also ranks very high for drunk driving deaths. Though the DWI problem in New Mexico has made some improvement in recent years with toughened enforcement, the problem still persists.
Far too often, the headlines read of tragic and senseless deaths from DWI accidents. For every drunk driving fatality that gets the attention of the media, there are many more DWI car crashes that cause very serious personal injuries to innocent drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
And though these may not be quite as horrific as the DWI fatalities that make the headlines, they often have catastrophic consequences for the victims of the DWI driver and their families.
Many believe that the district attorney will be able to seek compensation for the injuries to the victim and his or her family. This is simply not the case for the most part. Victims and families must look to the civil courts for true compensation. An experienced personal injury attorney can help.
Victims Rights in Criminal Prosecution
Those injured by a DWI driver have rights. There are victim rights units in most of the State’s prosecutor and district attorney offices. However, there are very strict limits on what can be recovered through the Victim’s Rights Act. Instead, DWI victims must resort to the civil justice system. This means filing a personal injury lawsuit.
The thing most needed by the victim, compensation for injuries and other losses, is for the most part beyond the reach of the criminal justice process
A personal injury lawsuit in the civil justice system can bring some level of recovery. Though criminal prosecution of DWI drivers will bring some sense of justice to the DWI victim and family, this alone is sorely insufficient to compensate a DWI victim and his or her family for the losses caused by a DWI accident. Instead, the victim and family needs and should recover financially from the DWI driver. Through a personal injury lawsuit, the innocent victim can recover a host of damages to compensate for the losses caused by the DWI driver.
In cases of very serious physical injuries or wrongful death, the victims and their families can never be truly fully compensated for the loss either through the criminal justice system or through personal injury lawsuits. The best that can be done is to bring some measure justice to the reckless DWI drivers who cause these tragic losses.
Personal Injury Claims for DWI Accidents
Usually, the only way for a victim of a DWI accident to gain anything close to compensation is to bring a personal injury claim against the DWI driver.
However, there will be a number of unique issues and possible challenges to these types of cases. There will also be the possibility of additional awards for damages based upon the reckless conduct of the DWI driver.
DWI Accidents are Covered by Auto Accident Insurance
The insurance company or companies may attempt to convince you that the DWI accident is not covered due to the wrongful action of the DWI driver. This is not so. This is one of many good reasons for obtaining an experienced personal injury attorney.
DWI Accidents are Covered by Your Underinsured Coverage
Hopefully, you have undersinsured coverage on your vehicle. If you do, you will be able to call upon the full underinsured coverage.
Like the other party’s insurance company, your insurance company may begin by suggesting it is not covered. No reputable insurance company would do this. If yours does, then you should know right then that you need an attorney.
Punitive Damages are Available
Punitive damages are awarded to both punish and deter wrongful conduct. Punitive damages are not typically appropriate in a car accident. Drunk driving is among the excpetions.
Punitive damages are awarded to both punish a wrongdoer and to prevent future such conduct in the future. In the case of DWI drivers, punitive damages are clearly available. These are typically a multiple of the compensatory damages (i.e. your injuries and losses associated with the injuries).
There are a few things to keep in mind regarding punitive damages. First, you may recover punitive damages under both the DWI driver’s liability insurance as well as under your own underinsured coverage. Second, punitive damages like any other damages are in reality generally capped by available insurance coverage. This second point is hard to accept sometimes and worthy of some explanation.
Damages are limited by insurance not because you cannot go to court and get a very large judgment well in excess of coverage. They are limited by insurance because those that have no or limited insurance typically have no or few assets against which a judgment could be collected. In short, as they say, you cannot get blood out of a turnip. This is a hard reality in New Mexico which has a very high rate of uninsured and underinsured drivers, and where many if not most drivers do not carry their own underinsured coverage.
Deadlines Apply DWI Personal Injury Cases
As with any personal injury case, there are strict deadlines including the statute of limiations.
DWI car accidents that result in injury to innocent victims are subject to the same deadlines that apply to all personal injury cases. Even though these are particularly egregious, there are no exceptions to the applicable deadlines.
Like all personal injury cases, there are deadlines that apply to DWI accident lawsuits. It is important to be aware of these deadlines. Missing a deadline such as the statute of limitations will bar a claim completely. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries at the hands of a DWI driver, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to protect your claims.