From a civil standpoint, there are several courses of action you can take in the event you or a loved one are injured as a result of a drunk driver’s actions. The first, and obvious, choice is to file a lawsuit against the drunk driver for negligence and wantonness. Negligence involves proving that the drunk driver breached a duty to others sharing the road. Clearly, when one drives under the influence of alcohol, they are breaching a duty to others on the roadways and putting lives in danger.
The second cause of action is called wantonness. Wantonness is
the conscious doing of some act or omission of some duty under knowledge of existing conditions and conscious that from the doing of such act or omission of such duty an injury will likely or probably result. Before a party can be said to be guilty of wanton conduct it must be shown that with reckless indifference to the consequences he either consciously and intentionally did some wrongful act or consciously omitted some known duty which produced the injury. Alabama Pattern Jury Instructions 29.00.
In plain English, wantonness is acting in a reckless manner without caring for the health and safety of others. Drinking alcohol and driving clearly meet that definition.
What is the difference between wantonness and negligence? Negligence only allows for compensatory damages – those damages which compensates the injured victim, i.e.: medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, etc. Wantonness allows for punitive damages as well – damages to punish the drunk driver for his wanton action.
Another potential cause of action is a claim for negligent entrustment. Negligent entrustment would be a claim against the owner of the vehicle if the drunk driver did not own the vehicle. In that type of claim, you would have to be able to prove that the owner knew or should have known that the driver was an incompetent driver. In such a case, you need to obtain the driving record and the criminal record of the drunk driver. If the drunk driver had had a DUI in the past, the owner should never have let him drive his car.
Finally, if the drunk driver is on the job at the time of the wreck (believe it or not, this happens), the employer will be responsible for the injuries he inflicts. The employer could also have some issues of their own if they knew or should have known that the employee was likely to drive under the influence of alcohol, i.e.: previous DUI’s, problems with previous employer, prior warnings, etc.
Another cause of action, which I will addres in Part 3 of this series, is called a Dram Shop action. This type of civil claim is set forth in the Alabama Code. Stay tuned and let us know if you find this information helpful.