Alaska Drunk Driving Car Accident Lawyer

This video features Mark Choate, a Criminal Law attorney based in Alaska.

Juneau Attorney Answers Common Questions About Drunk Driving Crashes

Video Transcript:

Mark Choate:

They get in a vehicle, the driver has been drinking and he drives the SUV off at a high speed, all four are killed.

Rob Rosenthal:

If you or someone you love has been injured or maybe even killed by a drunk driver, could you have a personal injury case? We're gonna find out right now because that's what we're going to Ask The Lawyer on this episode. Hi again, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com, and my guest is Alaska attorney, Mark Choate. Wanna remind you, if you wanna ask Mark any questions about your situation, it's easy. Go to askthelawyers.com, click the button in the upper right hand corner that says, Ask a Lawyer and it'll walk you right through the process. Doesn't cost anything to get some answers. Mark, good to see again, thank you for making some time to help us.

Mark Choate:

Good seeing you. 

Rob Rosenthal: 

So what would you like people to know? What should people know about injuries or deaths caused by drunk drivers? 

Mark Choate:

I think the key thing to understand is that when someone is driving drunk and they will obviously get a DWI or a DUI, if they cause harm to somebody else, frequently there'll be a felony charge against them. Those are all criminal cases, meaning that the government, whether it's a county or a city or the state will prosecute them to basically make sure that they're punished for this, that they are not gonna do it again. It can result in jail time. It can result in fines, loss of license, but the separate claim is what happens to the people that this person has hurt when they're drunk, and that's the civil side, and the civil side is really the injured person's claims against the drunk driver rather than the government's claims. And when you have someone who has been drinking and driving and they cause injury or death to somebody else, you can bring a civil claim against them for money damages, and those claims are interesting because the law provides that... Like for example, here in Alaska, if someone causes you injury and they've been drunk driving, they have to pay 100% of your reasonable attorney's fees. It's a special law that adds some additional dollar cost to it. Generally speaking, drunk driving is something that is covered by someone's insurance policies, it's not considered the type of intentional act, which would take you outside of insurance, so we often see...It's funny, a long time ago during the pipeline here in Alaska, there was a lot of drinking and we saw a lot of drunk driving cases, but I'm surprised at how they continue, we continue to see people drinking and driving and causing harm and death, and even though I think we approach alcohol a little differently as a society, we still have a lot of people that make really bad decisions.

Rob Rosenthal:

So Mark, does the criminal case have any bearing on the civil case? Let's say for whatever reason, the driver doesn't get prosecuted for drunk driving, does that have any bearing on the civil case?

Mark Choate:

It normally has some bearing, if in fact there's a guilty finding, you can use that in a civil case, but frequently people will plead what's called No contest, and that can't be used for civil liability. However, if you've got a strong DUI case, it's gonna be a fairly easy case to make, because remember, in the criminal context, you've gotta show proof beyond a reasonable doubt, in the civil context you have to show by preponderance evidence, meaning it's just more likely than not that something happened. So you can... they're not very difficult cases to prove these days, we see a lot of on-site video with police, the police are wearing body cameras. Often, witnesses, other drivers are taking a video with their cameras, and frequently even the drunk drivers before they're in a crash, someone has video of them on the highway driving badly. So it's a very different world than before, much more likely you'll get caught these days.

Rob Rosenthal:

What if someone, the injured party is actually in the vehicle with the drunk driver? Could they still have a case?

Mark Choate:

They do. They do... You have a direct claim against the driver for your injuries, whether it's serious injuries or even death because of bad driving, the only... There are attempts at times to argue that the person riding with the drunk driver is comparatively negligent, but those haven't been very successful. Generally speaking, we hold the driver responsible and most often, I would say it more than half the time, the people who are being injured are the people in the car, it's actually the passengers with the drunk driver.

Rob Rosenthal:

What about family members of the person who say is seriously injured or even killed because of the drunk driver, can they make a claim on their behalf?

Mark Choate:

They can. There's two types of claims that can be made. The first is that you can have... Basically, if someone is killed, the estate can have a claim, and so we have a number of cases going right now against drunk drivers and the entities, the businesses that sold them alcohol illegally, and the families are bringing those claims. You've lost your loved one, you've lost their time with you, their care, their support, their affection, all the things that come with death, so families can bring those claims. Also depending on the state, at times you can have what's called an NIED claim, which is a Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress claim. In Alaska, for instance, if you come upon the accident scene and you are emotionally shocked or you're called to the hospital and you learn and you haven't had time to steel yourself to the fact that your loved one has been seriously injured or killed, you can have an additional claim for what's called Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, and those are serious claims. They can change your life forever.

Rob Rosenthal:

You mentioned claims against the businesses that sell the alcohol. Tell me a little bit more about that. Are they always held responsible? How does that work?

Mark Choate:

It's very state-specific as to how fault will be applied to businesses that sell alcohol to people who are either minors or intoxicated, and every state is different, so you've gotta understand the state rules, but generally speaking, if someone appears to be intoxicated or has all the indicators that it looks like they are being sold alcohol when everyone would agree they shouldn't have it, you're gonna get the opportunity to potentially sue what's called the dram shop, and the dram shop is simply the place providing alcohol. It can be a package store. We've done them against package stores, it could be a bar, it could be a bar at a restaurant, any of those can be responsible for causing someone injury, the big one normally is, if someone's been sitting there for two or three hours and you serve them a dozen drinks, you're gonna probably be held responsible. If you walk into the bar and you just have one drink and you've been drinking somewhere else, we're gonna look to the other place you were drinking.

Rob Rosenthal:

In that situation, the first one you mentioned, is the case against the bartender themselves that served the drinks, or is it also against the establishment?

Mark Choate:

It's against the establishment. The establishment, because the selling of the alcohol, whether it's a bar or it's a packaged liquor store, is for the benefit of the owners of the business, the business is held responsible under what's called the Doctrine of Respondeat Superior, master servant, just means the master is responsible for the conduct of the service, so if the servant serves someone who was intoxicated or alternatively fails to confirm the age of the person, you just can't serve the minors, and if you do serve to a minor and minors always try to get alcohol, it's not hard to prevent that if you have a license check and you are trained to be pick up the kind of clearly fake licenses.

Rob Rosenthal:

Tell us a little bit more, Mark, about your experience handling these kind of cases, what have you seen, what sort of injuries are usually involved in drunk driver in cases?

Mark Choate:

I would say we probably do three or four a year that involve at least, and we don't have a huge auto practice, we do a lot of other kinds of cases, but three or four a year. This year, we did a couple of smaller ones where people had injuries but they weren't terrible. We also have two separate single vehicle cases, which meanings, it's only the driver and the passages in the car that were injured in one vehicle, after miners were served or sold alcohol at two different dram shops, they drove off the road about 110 miles an hour. It killed a 18-year-old and a 15-year-old in the back of the car, it severely injured the passenger in the front, the driver was not that terribly injured, but a huge, huge, huge loss. Then a separate one we're just working on. Four fishermen, young fishermen have just come into town from working out in a remote community, they get in the vehicle, the driver has been drinking and he drives the SUV off at a high speed, all four killed. So you have some really, really terrible injuries and... They're always heartbreaking because we have lots of options now for people to do something besides drink and drive, so they're heartbreaking.

Rob Rosenthal:

Lots of really helpful information is always Mark, thank you for making some time to answer our questions. 

Mark Choate:

You bet.

Rob Rosenthal:

That's gonna do it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer. My guess has been Alaska attorney, Mark Choate. Wanted to remind you, if you'd like to ask more questions about your situation, just go to askthelawyers.com, click the button at the upper right hand corner in the screen that says Ask a Lawyer and it'll walk you through the very simple process right there. Thanks for watching, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with Ask the Lawyers.

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