Virginia Drunk Driving Laws
Motorists are considered legally intoxicated in Virginia if:
- They are at least 21 years of age or older and have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or above;
- They are under the age of 21 and have a BAC of 0.02 or above;
- They are operating a commercial vehicle (such as a semi-truck) with a BAC of 0.04 or above.
These are the legal limits for a “per se” DUI, but a motorist may also be charged for DUI in Virginia if they are intoxicated to the point of not being able to safely operate a vehicle – even if their BAC does not exceed the legal limit.
The Commonwealth imposes very harsh penalties on DUI offenders. For example, a first-time offender can receive fines of up to $2500, loss of driving privileges for up to one year, and the possibility of jail time. Penalties may be enhanced if there are aggravated circumstances, such as a DUI accident with injuries or fatalities.
While the criminal penalties for DUI are stiff, they are nothing compared to the enormous physical, emotional, and financial pain drunk driving accident victims and their families have to go through. It is also important to note that a criminal conviction for DUI does not provide any compensation to those who are injured or killed in a resulting accident. A separate civil claim must be filed against the drunk driver or their insurer for monetary damages.
Pursuing a Drunk Driving Accident Claim in Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia allows victims injured in drunk driving accidents and family members of those killed in these types of accidents to seek economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
Economic damages are direct monetary losses the victim suffers, such as medical costs, lost earnings, loss of future earning capacity, property damage, and funeral and burial expenses. Non-economic damages are losses that are real but more intangible and difficult to quantify, such as pain and suffering, psychological distress, loss of enjoyment, disfigurement, permanent disability, and loss of companionship, comfort, and care.
Punitive damages are in an entirely separate category. These types of damages are not meant to compensate the victim, but rather to “punish” the party responsible for the injury. Punitive damages are rare in standard auto accident cases because, in order to receive this type of award, you must show that the actions of the responsible party were willful, wanton, or malicious. However, the actions of individuals who cause drunk driving accidents may rise to this level, depending on the circumstances of the case.
It is important to note that, just because you were injured in an accident with a drunk driver, this does not necessarily mean you will be able to recover compensation. The insurance company for the other driver will not pay a claim simply because their client was intoxicated, they will also look at the cause of the accident and who was at fault.
The determination of fault is very important in Virginia because the Commonwealth applies the “contributory negligence” legal standard. This means that if an injured party is found to have “contributed” in any way to the underlying accident (even 1%), they can be barred from recovering compensation.
This is a very high bar to clear, and it is one of many reasons it is important to get an attorney involved as early as possible in the process. With a skilled attorney working for you from the outset, they can go to work immediately putting together your case and helping ensure that your right to compensation is protected.
Contact Our Seasoned Virginia DUI Accident Lawyers
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a drunk driving accident, you need an experienced legal advocate in your corner fighting hard to recover maximum compensation and hold those responsible (for the accident) fully accountable. At Schilling & Esposito, we are ready to go to work for you! Call our office today at 804-261-1001 to schedule your free consultation. You may also send us a message through our online contact form or stop by our office in person at your convenience, or we will come to you.
We accept all personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis, so you only pay attorney fees if we recover compensation on your behalf.