North Carolina DWI Laws
In North Carolina, it is illegal for drivers to operate a motor vehicle with a 0.08 or greater blood alcohol content (BAC) level, which may be as little as two drinks, depending on the driver. North Carolina uses a more complex system for punishing drunk drivers than other states, relying on five separate sentencing levels and a list of aggravating and mitigating factors to determine the amount of jail time, if any, and fines first-time and repeat DWI offenders receive.
While the punishments against repeat offenders - particularly those who have been convicted of three or more DWIs within the last 10 years - have become more severe, the punishments against first and second time offenders may not amount to more than a slap on the hand.
For example, those receiving their second DWI conviction with no grossly aggravating factors may be subject to as little as 24-72 hours in jail, which may be substituted with community service hours. Even in accidents where another person is seriously injured, the DWI offender may receive a minimum of seven days to one year in jail - a sentence which may do little to assure the victim of the accident that the driver will not get behind the wheel of a car intoxicated again.
Legal Options for Victims of DWI Accidents
When drivers make the fateful decision to drive their cars after drinking, they should be responsible for suffering the full range of consequences for their selfish decision. This includes not only the criminal and administrative penalties for violating North Carolina's drunk driving laws, but also the civil penalties for injuring an innocent person with their reckless acts.
Filing a civil lawsuit is one of the ways injury victims can seek justice against those who have harmed them. Some of the types of compensation that may be available in a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver include:
- Medical expenses
- Rehabilitation costs
- Lost wages
- Permanent disfigurement
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
In addition, DWI accident victims also may be entitled to punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages that are meant to reimburse injury victims for their losses as a result of the accident, punitive damages are awarded solely to punish liable parties for their bad acts.
In order to receive an award of punitive damages, the injury victims must be able to prove that the drunk driver committed an "intentional, malicious and willful act" and that the injury resulted from "wanton negligence." Wanton negligence is defined as conduct that shows a "conscious and intentional disregard of and indifference to the rights and safety of others." In drunk driving accident cases, it generally is not difficult to prove wanton negligence on the part of a driver who made a conscious decision to drive after drinking.
The drunk driver's insurance policy may exclude the payment of punitive damages to injury victims. However, under North Carolina case law, the insurance company still must provide up to $30,000 in punitive damages to accident victims, despite what the policy may say.
In some cases, it may be appropriate to also file a claim against third-parties for the accident. For example, under North Carolina's Safe Road Act, restaurant and bar owners can be held responsible for drunk driving accidents if they served alcohol to someone under 21 who later caused the crash. DWI injury victims also have the right to file a claim against establishments that knowingly serve alcohol to intoxicated adults over the legal drinking age who cause an accident after leaving their places of business.
If the drunk driving accident resulted in the death of a loved one, then the surviving family members have the right to pursue a wrongful death action. Under state law, only the executor, administrator or collector of the deceased loved one's estate (i.e. the decedent) may bring a wrongful death claim. However, the claim is still brought for the benefit of the family. Some of the types of compensation that may be awarded in a wrongful death case include:
- The decedent's medical bills
- Damages for the decedent's pain and suffering
- Funeral expenses
- The family's losses, including loss of companionship and society
- Punitive damages
Even though a civil claim or wrongful death claim cannot undo the damage done by a drunk driver, it can provide those who have lost the most from these accidents some measure of relief that the responsible driver will not get away with it.
Contact an Experienced Attorney Today
Victims of drunk driving accidents understand better than anyone else how these accidents can destroy lives. Taking legal action against the drunk driver is an important way to protect other innocent people from a truly horrible act.
For more information on your legal options following a drunk driving accident, contact an experienced attorney today.