A driver crouches with his head in hand after a drunk driving accident. Silver car with front end damage pictured in background.

Drunk or otherwise impaired drivers can pose a severe threat to anyone traversing Colorado’s roads.

In 2019, there were 163 drunk-driving fatalities, accounting for just over 27 percent of the state’s driving fatalities that year. In the same time period, 19,658 people were arrested for driving under the influence in Colorado.

If you or a loved one have been in an accident caused by a drunk driver, your life may be seriously impacted. You could have medical bills and car repairs to deal with while recovering and unable to work.

Should you rely on the other driver’s insurance company to ensure your needs are met? Absolutely not.

The drunk driver’s insurance company adjuster will work to protect the company’s interests – by paying you as little as possible! Their potential strategies include everything from claiming the accident was your fault to making you a lowball offer that doesn’t begin to cover damages.

So how can you protect your right to compensation after a drunk driving accident?

Contact a Summit County Drunk Driving Accident Attorney for Help

Sometimes people don’t think they need a lawyer after a car accident. Making a claim with the drunk driver’s insurance company seems simple.

But the process doesn’t always go smoothly.

You might be wondering why, if the other driver was drunk, it would be so difficult to get your bills paid.

The first obstacle is the other driver’s insurance company. They have a long list of reasons not to pay claims, and we’ve met many understandably frustrated people who received a denial.

If you’ve filed a claim on your own and it was denied for any reason, please don’t call and argue with the insurance company. We know it’s an upsetting situation, but calling the insurance carrier is unlikely to get the denial reversed, and sometimes it can make things worse.

The insurance company will probably record the call, then review every word you said, looking for anything that can be misconstrued to mean you were at fault.

How Can I Be at Fault if the Other Driver Was Drunk?

There are several ways this can happen. First, fault in a civil case generally refers to negligence, which requires you to prove the following:

  • The other party had a duty of care. In car accident cases, this is usually interpreted to mean that everyone on the road has a duty to drive carefully and take reasonable precautions to avoid causing accidents and injury.
  • The other party failed in their duty of care. This part is not usually hard to prove in drunk driving cases – obviously, not driving drunk is a reasonable precaution to keep others safe on the roads. Occasionally the other driver might argue that they weren’t really drunk, but that may be difficult to prove.
  • This failed duty of care led to your accident and caused your injuries. This part is most likely to be argued in a drunk driving case. For instance, the other driver could claim that if you caused the accident by, say, running a red light, then their negligence in driving drunk wasn’t the cause of your injuries.

To better understand why it’s possible for a driver to be drunk but not responsible for your injuries, we need to talk about another legal concept: Modified comparative negligence.

What is Modified Comparative Negligence in Colorado Law?

This is a legal concept used to address situations of shared fault, which are common in car accidents or other personal injury cases.

Driving mistakes happen often – even people who are perfectly sober and driving carefully can make a wrong decision in the moment. As a result, there are many accidents where both parties make errors that probably contributed to the crash.

Now, who pays for the damage in these cases? Each state has its own system for dealing with car accident liability, and some avoid the problem entirely with no-fault systems that require everyone to simply use their own insurance to pay for their own damages.

Among “fault states” for car accidents, modified comparative negligence is the most common solution. This is what Colorado uses.

Under modified comparative negligence, the driver primarily at fault (by more than 50 percent) is held liable for the injuries or damages of others in the accident.

However, most drivers are not held personally liable, as liability insurance is legally required and should cover the other party’s expenses. There are some exceptions, which we’ll discuss later.

Another aspect of modified comparative negligence is its effect on the amount of compensation you might receive.

While the “mostly responsible” party is expected to pay for the other person’s damages, any percentage of fault assigned to the victim is deducted from their award. So if you had $50,000 in damages and were 10 percent at fault, you would only receive $45,000.

Who Decides Percentage of Fault?

In a case that goes to trial and is resolved in court, a jury will be asked to assign each driver a percentage of fault, with the percentages adding up to 100. But most car accident cases are settled out of court, between insurance companies for the drivers.

What if the Other Driver Was Convicted of Drunk Driving? Does That Prove They Were at Fault?

No, that proves they were driving drunk. Although it certainly doesn’t hurt your case for the other driver to have a conviction for drunk driving, it isn’t proof they caused your accident or that you didn’t contribute to it.

The other driver’s insurance carrier could still argue that you contributed to the crash or even that you were “mostly” at fault. This tactic often saves the insurance carrier money.

If they can convince the other insurance company you were mostly to blame, they pay nothing; if they can make a compelling case that you were partly to blame, they can still pay less than the total amount.

So How Can I Prove the Drunk Driver Was at Fault?

Call a Summit County drunk driving accident lawyer as soon as possible after your accident. We will immediately get to work seeking out additional evidence to prove your case.

Our skilled investigative team will visit the accident site, look for additional witnesses, and search for cameras (doorbell, traffic, security) that might provide footage of the accident. We may also track down businesses that might have served the drunk driver.

Will It Hurt My Case if the Drunk Driver Wasn’t Convicted?

Not necessarily. Sometimes charges are dropped for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not the defendant is actually guilty.

If the prosecutor doesn’t believe they have enough evidence to win the case, they may drop the charges. In some cases, there are problems with how evidence was handled, such as blood for a blood alcohol level test or BAC.

The defendant’s lawyer may also raise concerns that the officer didn’t follow protocols for storing, maintaining, or administering a breathalyzer test.

While it can be frustrating to learn that the drunk driver who caused your accident won’t face criminal charges or has been acquitted, it’s helpful to remember that the burden of proof in civil cases is much lower.

Often we can still recover compensation for the injured party even if the driver wasn’t convicted of drunk driving.

It’s also not necessary to prove the other driver was drunk – as long as we can provide enough evidence that they were mostly or entirely at fault, we can pursue compensation from their insurance carrier.

What if the Drunk Driver Was Uninsured?

In Colorado, it’s estimated that about 16.3 percent of drivers are uninsured.

There can be many reasons why a person drives without insurance, including financial factors. However, some people are unable to get car insurance due to a previous history of drunk driving or are unable to afford the only insurance available due to this history.

As a result, it’s unfortunately common to find that a drunk driver who injured someone is also uninsured.

Don’t assume you’re out of luck if this happens – instead, please talk to a car accident lawyer. In many cases, we can find other solutions to getting your damages paid, including:

  • Suing the drunk driver. This is not necessarily a good option in every case. Although you may have a strong chance of winning, if the other driver has no assets we can seize, it may not be worth the time commitment and stress of a trial.
  • Using your uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance. Hopefully, you do have UM/UI coverage, even though it’s optional in Colorado. This will cover your bills if the other driver is uninsured or if your damages exceed the limits of their liability policy. If you have MedPay and Collision coverage, you might also be able to use these to cover medical bills and car repairs.
  • Suing a third party. In certain situations, we may be able to sue a bar or restaurant that served alcohol to the drunk driver if they were either visibly intoxicated or a minor.

How Do I Find a Summit County Drunk Driving Accident Law Firm?

Please contact the Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™ for a free consultation about your case. We’ll answer your questions and explain your options with no obligation. Call (303) 586-7297 today.