- Michigan Drunk Driving Accident Lawyers Answer Your Most Frequently Asked Questions on Substance Abuse and Driving Laws
Michigan Drunk Driving Accident Lawyers Answer Your Most Frequently Asked Questions on Substance Abuse and Driving Laws
As you may imagine, Michigan’s largest personal injury law firm, Mike Morse Law Firm, frequently deals with accidents caused by intoxicated drivers. We’re often asked a variety of questions on the topic and thought it would be helpful to outline our most common responses.
Of course, all cases are different, so we should start by saying that, for any of these situations, there could be mitigating circumstances that might cause us to offer legal advice differing from our typical answers. Which means that, in a case where you find yourself asking these (or related) questions, it’s always best to call us to discuss your specific situation. In the meantime, feel free to review this basic guidance on some of the most frequently asked questions we hear every day.
Can bars be sued for overserving drunk drivers?
Absolutely. Michigan has what’s called a “dram shop law” that requires licensed alcohol vendors (bars, restaurants, taverns, liquor stores) to sell responsibly. Reducing drunk driving is an important goal of the dram shop law, but there are other reasons it’s enforced. First and foremost, you need to know that selling alcohol to minors is always against the law as spelled out by the Michigan Liquor Control Code. Second, any Michigan bar that is responsible for selling alcohol to someone who appears to be intoxicated can also be held legally liable. For instance, a bar that continues to provide drinks to someone who’s obviously intoxicated can be charged under the “dram shop law” and is also subject to being sued if the drunk customer causes injuries or property damage to innocent citizens after leaving the bar. Additionally, if a bar fails to contact police when its patrons are causing mayhem — as happened in this recent Cheboygan County bar attack — the establishment can also be sued for negligence, according to a recent decision made by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
What about parents serving alcohol to minors who cause an accident that kills or injures someone?
The dram shop law outlined above applies solely to licensed alcohol sellers. But that doesn’t mean parents or other individuals can legally provide alcohol to minors. A parent — or even the host of a cocktail party — can be sued for negligence if a minor guest becomes intoxicated and either injures someone else or dies. Pat Gagliardi, chair of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, recently warned parents about their legal liability if they provide alcohol to minors. A first-time offense can result in a $1,000 fine and 60 days in jail; if a minor dies from just about any cause as a result of using alcohol provided by a parent or other adult, those penalties rise to $5,000 and 10 years in prison. Needless to say, the victims of accidents caused by minors can also sue the parents of those children. The Michigan Court of Appeals stated in a 2003 decision, “Parents may be held liable for failing to exercise the control necessary to prevent their children from intentionally harming others if they know or have reason to know of the necessity and opportunity for doing so.” Providing alcohol to your minor child would clearly result in the possibility of them causing harm to others — and could definitely constitute failure to exercise control!
How often do drunk driving accidents occur?
Before we get to the vast number of accidents, let’s first talk about drunk driving accident fatalities. In Michigan, more than one person dies every day due to alcohol- or drug-related collisions. There were 419 such wrongful deaths in 2019 (the most recent year for which we have complete statistics). But that number dramatically understates the problem of drunk driving in our pleasant peninsulas. The Michigan State Police report there were more than 314,000 collisions statewide in 2019, and it’s apparent that many of those involve drugs or alcohol. Since we know that more than 42 percent of traffic-related deaths are caused by impaired drivers, it seems fair to conclude that over 130,000 accidents in 2019 were related to drug and/or alcohol use. That translates to a statewide average of more than 360 accidents every day caused by drunk or high drivers across Michigan.
Are drunk drivers always at fault?
Drunk drivers are certainly dangerous. But to be clear, they don’t cause all motor vehicle accidents. As noted above, of the Michigan vehicle fatalities that occurred in 2019, more than half were not blamed on drunk or impaired drivers. However, if you have been drinking, you’re far more likely to be involved in an Michigan car accident than if you’re driving sober. One study shows that drivers whose blood-alcohol level reaches just 0.05 percent are twice as likely to become involved in accidents. That’s well below the 0.08 percent legal limit for being charged with DUI in Michigan. (But note that anything over a 0.02 percent bodily alcohol reading is illegal for Michigan drivers under the age of 21!)
It’s also commonplace to get caught while driving drunk. For instance, in 2019, more than 30,000 Michiganders were arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol. Still, it’s important to realize that sometimes a drunk driver may be hit by someone who hasn’t been drinking. In such a case, while the intoxicated individual might not be at fault for the collision, they could still be charged with drunk driving if a breathalyzer test is administered! In other words, it’s never a good idea to drink and drive, even if you’re lucky enough to avoid getting into an accident.
Does your insurance cover you if you get into a crash when drunk?
Yes, you should be covered up to the limits of your policy’s liability coverage. But the story doesn’t end there. You could ultimately lose your insurance coverage, and be denied coverage in the future if you’re convicted of impaired driving. Furthermore, if you’re sued, your insurance coverage may not protect you from large cash settlements won in lawsuits by injured parties. For example, the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services says that the state’s no-fault laws permit you to be sued if you, “cause an accident in Michigan in which someone is killed, seriously injured, or permanently disfigured; are involved in an motor vehicle accident in Michigan with a non-resident who is an occupant of a motor vehicle not registered in Michigan; or if you are involved in an accident in another state.” Again, if you drink and drive, whether in Michigan or elsewhere, you’re putting yourself at significant physical, legal, and financial risk.
Legally, are alcohol and drugs treated differently in Michigan?
Simply put, no. According to state law, it’s illegal to drive “while intoxicated, or impaired, by alcohol, (a) controlled substance, or (an)other intoxicating substance.” This means that, if chemical testing for alcohol or drugs reveals those elements are present in your body, you can be charged with various misdemeanor and felony driving offenses. In a worst-case scenario, if you kill or seriously injure someone when you’re driving while intoxicated, you may face up to 15 years in prison along with significant monetary fines. If the victim happens to be an emergency responder (police officer, ambulance driver, fire fighter, etc.) five more years could be added to your sentence. And, of course, those are just the criminal penalties. If you’re sued by the victim or the victim’s family, legal settlements can rise into the seven figures. In short, you’re risking financial devastation if you get behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
How can Mike Morse Law Firm help you?
If you’re a drunk driver, we won’t. We simply don’t make it a practice to defend drunk or impaired drivers. Of course, if you are facing those types of legal challenges, we recommend consulting with a competent defense attorney to ensure fair treatment and due process of law.
However, if you’ve been injured by a drunk driver — or someone under the influence of illegal or schedule 1 substances, our Michigan personal injury attorneys can be the people in your corner making sure you get the legal attention and protection you deserve. Just call us at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) or get in touch with us online. We’re here for you day or night, 24/7/365.