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Do I Need an Auto Accident Lawyer For a Drunk Driving Accident In Salt Lake City, UT?

Auto accidents encompass the vast majority of personal injury cases and are one of the country’s top causes of severe injury or death. If you suffer injuries and property damage in an accident involving a drunk driver, you can likely use the civil court system to recover compensation for your losses. Unfortunately, Utah’s personal injury laws can be complex and challenging for someone without legal experience. However, you can enlist the help of an auto accident lawyer at no financial risk and allow yourself the opportunity to return to your life before the accident.

Is Utah a No-Fault Auto Insurance State?

Utah is a no-fault state, meaning vehicle owners must purchase personal injury protection insurance by law. The no-fault insurance requirement limits your ability to file a civil lawsuit and recover damages from the at-fault party in your case. PIP eliminates the foundation of liability in an insurance claim. Instead, both parties turn to their own insurance coverage to receive compensation for the cost of medical treatment and lost income.

Unlike the damages available if you file a lawsuit, PIP insurance does not cover property damage or non-economic losses, which include pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, disability, and depression or anxiety caused by the accident. Additionally, there are limitations to the amount of coverage you can receive for medical costs. For these reasons, Utah allows victims of severe accidents to bypass PIP insurance and file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. However, they must meet the requirements of the serious injury threshold.

Serious Injury Threshold

To file a personal injury lawsuit, the injuries you sustained in the accident must accumulate a minimum of $3,000 in medical costs or result in permanent disfigurement, disability, impairment or dismemberment. Then you have the right to hold the at-fault party responsible via a lawsuit or third-party insurance claim. You can also include property damage and non-economic losses in your claim.

Punitive Damages

Utah also allows the payment of punitive damages in drunk driving cases where compensatory damages are awarded. The legal standard for punitive damages is clear and convincing evidence, which is not as strict as criminal court. However, the purpose of these damages is to punish the defendant for showing reckless indifference toward the other driver. The court will consider the defendant’s wealth and available assets when determining the amount of a punitive damages award.

What Can an Auto Accident Lawyer Do for a Drunk Driving Case?

Minor accidents with few damages typically go through the no-fault insurance system and likely do not require legal representation. However, in a drunk driving accident involving significant medical bills, you will want to consider the benefits of having a personal injury attorney on your side. Some duties of an auto accident lawyer include:

  • Negotiations. Auto accident attorneys have experience negotiating with insurance companies to ensure their clients receive a fair settlement.
  • Trial experience. If your case does not settle and you must go to trial, your attorney will prepare for this phase and represent you in court.
  • Legal knowledge. The nuances of a civil lawsuit can be complex and cumbersome for someone without legal experience. However, an auto accident lawyer deals with these cases daily and understands your rights and how to protect them.
  • Collect evidence. When you hire an auto accident lawyer, the first thing they do is independently investigate your case to collect evidence supporting your liability and damages claims.
  • Communicate with lien holders. Auto accident lawyers regularly work with case lien holders, such as healthcare professionals. As a result, they can sometimes reduce the amount of some liens, lowering the cost of medical debt.
  • Provide emotional support. You work closely with an auto accident attorney, developing a relationship and trust with them. Because they work with similar cases, they understand the struggles you face and provide emotional support in addition to professional objectivity.

Auto accident attorneys typically offer their services at no upfront cost. They know the burdens drunk driving accident victims face, so they agree to provide legal representation on contingency.

How Does Utah Law Handle Shared Fault?

Insurance companies will often respond to civil lawsuits with allegations of shared responsibility, even in cases when one driver was under the influence of alcohol. However, Utah law still allows plaintiffs in auto accident cases to recover a portion of damages if they bear a percentage of fault less than the defendant. This law is called the modified comparative negligence rule.

Suppose the court determines your share of fault equals 45%. In that case, you would still be entitled to 55% of your total damages. Therefore, if the court awards you $10,000 in compensatory damages, you could only receive $5,500. However, if the court determines you are more at fault than the defendant, you would receive none of the $10,000.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for an Auto Accident Lawsuit in Utah?

A statute of limitations restricts the timeframe you can successfully file an auto accident lawsuit. For personal injury, Utah allows you four years to file your case. This rule applies to everyone involved in the case, including the driver, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders, and motorcyclists.

If the accident resulted in a death, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death case is two years from the date of the victim’s death. This differs from a standard auto accident case in which the statute of limitations timeframe begins with the date of the accident. In addition, Utah law allows those closest to the deceased person to file a wrongful death claim. These people include:

  • The surviving spouse of the deceased
  • The surviving adult children of the deceased
  • The deceased’s minor children under the supervision of their parent, who is also the surviving spouse
  • Adopted children
  • A representative of the deceased person’s estate

Other immediate family members, such as siblings or parents, can file a wrongful death claim. However, the court considers the immediate family members first.

Finally, if you want to file a claim for property damage, Utah allows three years from the date of the accident. These limitations do not apply to your ability to file an insurance claim. While you should file a claim as quickly as possible, there is no statute of limitations. However, the longer you wait, the weaker your claim may be.

Should You Schedule a Consultation With an Auto Accident Lawyer?

If you suffered an injury in a collision caused by a drunk driver, an auto accident attorney could help you get the compensation you need to get back on your feet. Auto accidents can be traumatic, and adding the element of drunk driving only makes it more emotional and frustrating. The drunk driver will face criminal charges, but you may need the help of legal representation in civil court to recover your losses. At Fielding Law, our team of auto accident attorneys will fight aggressively to protect your best interests and ensure you receive a fair settlement. Still, we will not hesitate to take your case to trial if the insurance company will not cooperate. Our top priority is our clients. Therefore, if you have questions about your case and what we can do for you, contact Fielding Law today to speak to an experienced auto accident attorney. Even if you do not need representation, we can provide you with peace of mind.