Jada Benge was only thirty-three years old when a drunk teen driver took her life.
She left behind three young girls and a husband, Michael, who were also seriously injured in the crash. Michael Benge wrote these words in 2013 for the Bakersfield Californian: “Today is the ninth anniversary of our wreck on May 29, 2004.
We have learned to live one day at a time and to live by faith. But, because of the arrogance and selfishness of others, every day, every holiday, every memorable moment is bittersweet.” Benge’s daughters were eight, nine, and twelve years old when their lives were changed forever that day in 2004.
Rebekah Bowers Sanders also knows the pain that drunk drivers can inflict on the innocent.
In 2015, a drunk driver severely injured Sanders and her husband near Paris, Texas. Together, they suffered broken ribs and limbs, a broken eye socket, a shattered wrist, a dislocated shoulder and hip, a sprained wrist, a sprained ankle, torn ligaments, and lasting deep bruises.
“I have yet to regain the vision in my right eye, and it is extremely unlikely that I will ever see out of it again. I will never get to look over my shoulder at my children playing in the backseat of the car,” Sanders told KLFY News.
WHAT ARE THE NUMBERS?
The survivors are lucky in one sense, because drunk drivers take about 10,000 innocent lives on this nation’s streets and highways every year.
In California alone, in both 2013 and 2014, more than 1,000 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents. Thousands more are injured by drunk drivers – nationally, more than a quarter-of-a-million of us are injured every year, and many of those injuries are catastrophic or permanently disabling.
It doesn’t take much alcohol to reach the legal intoxication limit. For some people, one drink is enough, and after just one drink, almost everyone’s driving skills will be at least slightly impaired and reaction times will be slightly slower.
In the past thirty years in the state of California, intoxicated drivers have inflicted more than a million injuries on innocent California residents and visitors.
More than 172,000 DUI arrests were made in this state in 2012. There’s simply no getting around the reality that whenever you drive or ride as a passenger on a California street or highway, there’s a good chance that an intoxicated driver may be on the same road with you.
Beyond the fatalities and the physical injuries, alcohol-related vehicle collisions cost all of us in the United States more than $50 billion every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of course, courts in every state punish convicted drunk drivers with fines, jail terms, license suspensions, and more, but if you or someone you love is injured – now or in the future – by an intoxicated driver, you may also seek justice through the civil courts with a personal injury claim.
In many cases, and especially if you’ve been visibly injured and the driver who injured you is convicted of DUI, you won’t even have to go to court because your attorney will negotiate an out-of-court settlement on your behalf.
HOW DOES THE LAW PROTECT YOU?
Of course, if your life has been changed by an accident with a drunk driver, no matter how much cash you are awarded in a verdict or settlement, you may still end up paying a higher price than the driver who injured you.
Still, if you are injured by a drunk driver, seek medical attention first, and then discuss your legal rights and options with a good personal injury lawyer, and in Los Angeles County, with an experienced Pasadena personal injury attorney.
California law entitles every personal injury victim to full reimbursement for medical treatment, days lost from work, and all additional expenses and losses linked to injuries caused by impaired and otherwise negligent drivers.
If you’ve been injured by an impaired driver, even though you are entitled to reimbursement, winning that reimbursement isn’t necessarily easy. You will need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney to prove that you were injured – in that accident and by that driver – and you’ll have to prove that the driver was negligent.
Beyond that, you’ll also have to demonstrate the extent of your injuries and damages so that an amount can be specified. Your attorney will investigate the facts of the case, compile and examine evidence, question witnesses, and call on experts if necessary to win the reimbursement and justice that every innocent victim of drunk driving needs and deserves.
It is imperative to cooperate and to be completely honest with your attorney, and it’s also imperative to put your attorney on the case as quickly as you can. Eyewitnesses forget over time, and evidence must be examined at once. If a drunk driver injures you, don’t wait – act. Make the call to a good personal injury lawyer promptly.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES?
Obviously, permanent injuries and the loss of loved ones can’t be fixed with any amount of money.
The most tragic consequences of drunk driving linger with the innocent victims and their families for the rest of their lives. Traumatic brain injuries, severe spinal cord injuries, amputation, disfigurement, and painful whiplash are far too frequently the result of intoxicated driving. These injuries usually make it impossible to perform work or even to accomplish everyday tasks like bathing, dressing, and cooking.
Time, however, does not always heal all injuries, and sometimes after an alcohol-related tragedy, it’s the emotional wounds that may never heal. The survivors of these collisions, victims like Rebekah Bowers Sanders and Michael Benge, deal with real psychological challenges.
No one adjusts easily to the sudden loss of a loved one – or to being disabled – especially when it happens because of the foolish negligence of an impaired stranger. Every victim faces different struggles, but when a drunk driver changes a family’s life, jobs can be lost and marriages can be destroyed.
Legally, those convicted of driving under the influence pay for their crimes, but outside of the courtroom, it too often seems that the innocent victims of drunk driving are the ones who suffer the punishment.
If you’ve ever suspected that drunk drivers are not injured as seriously as their victims in collisions, science may be confirming that suspicion.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have studied the statistics. It appears that a higher blood alcohol content (BAC) level enhances a trauma victim’s odds of survival in a serious traffic collision. In other words, the drunker a driver is, the more statistically likely he or she is to survive a crash and avoid being seriously injured. Researchers found that the most intoxicated accident victims really do suffer fewer and less severe injuries. Lee Friedman, the study’s author and an assistant professor at UIC, writes that, “After an injury, if you are intoxicated there seems to be a pretty substantial protective effect.”
WHAT’S THE FIRST PRIORITY?
You must obtain medical attention at once if you or someone you love is injured in a collision with an impaired driver.
If you are involved in a crash with a drunk driver, stay calm and think clearly. Medical attention comes first. If you’ve been seriously injured, be certain to arrange for the full medical care and treatment that you’re going to need. If you don’t think that you’ve been injured or feel like you’ve been injured, see a doctor anyway, and promptly.
Some injuries are not immediately obvious or detectable, and those are the injuries that can emerge subsequently as genuine health threats. Don’t just try to walk off or ignore aches or soreness after a traffic crash. Seeing a doctor protects your health, and it also protects you legally if you need to file an injury claim later.
When an accident happens, you also need to call the police. You’ll need a copy of their accident report – more legal protection if you need to act later. Get the names and contact information of any other witnesses.
You must obtain the other driver’s name, contact details, and insurance information. Most people try to be helpful after an accident, but if the other driver is too injured or drunk to work with you, ask the police to help you get the information you need.
WHAT EVIDENCE WILL YOU NEED?
Take lots of photographs of the crash scene, the vehicle damages, the vehicle license plates, and your own injuries.
If you can’t take photos because of your injury, ask someone to help. The right photographs can verify your personal injury claim and make all the difference in negotiations or in court.
Make and store safely copies of any documents and paperwork generated by the accident and injury – medical bills and receipts, test results, and anything else that might be relevant. Be sure that you keep a precise record of the providers’ names, the healthcare facilities and their locations, and the dates when you are seen for medical care.
Obviously, money can never compensate for many of the consequences of drunk driving.
Nevertheless, an experienced personal injury lawyer can use every available legal tool to help you obtain a verdict or settlement that helps you move forward with the medical treatment and the financial resources you need.
Immediately take your case to a good personal injury lawyer if you’re injured by a drunk driver, and in southern California, promptly contact an experienced Pasadena personal injury attorney.