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Law Office of James A. Maniatis June 20, 2022

While deaths from drunk driving decreased in 2020 during the pandemic, as things return to normal two years later, it’s again a dangerous proposition every time you hop into your vehicle and head out to work, to a friend's house, shopping, or to wherever. Drivers operating their vehicles under the influence can do unpredictable things while driving and cause you and your vehicle harm.

A collision on the road is always a stressful event, but if you suspect the other driver is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, additional alarm bells may sound in your head. What can you do? You can’t arrest the person yourself, but if you call the police to the scene, you can try to alert them to the possibility of drunk driving.

Massachusetts is a no-fault auto insurance state, which means you must file with your own insurance company first for any claims for injury. Under certain circumstances – if your injuries are costly or severe enough – you can file a personal injury lawsuit.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident with a suspected drunk driver in or around Shrewsbury, Southborough, or Webster, Massachusetts, contact me immediately at the Law Office of James A. Maniatis. I have more than three decades’ experience in helping accident victims recover deserved compensation because of the negligence of others.

I also proudly serve clients in Westborough, Northborough, Grafton, Boylston, Millbury, Upton, Dudley, and Oxford, or anywhere throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Insurance and

Drunk Driving Laws

As mentioned earlier, Massachusetts is a no-fault auto insurance state. The system is designed to keep auto claims out of the courtroom. If you’re injured in an accident, whether by a drunk driver or anyone else, your first recourse is to report your injuries to your insurance company. The policy’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) rider then covers your medical expenses and other losses up to the limit you purchased.

However, if your medical expenses exceed $2,000, which might seem like a high bar but really isn’t, or if your injuries are serious enough – broken bones, disfigurement, loss of a bodily function or part – you can file a personal injury lawsuit. While your insurance policy will cover only economic losses such as medical expenses and lost wages, a civil judgment can include non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.

It is vital to remember that Massachusetts adheres to the modified comparative negligence rule. Should you be found to have contributed more than 50 percent to the accident, you cannot recover damages. That’s why this standard is often called “the 51 percent rule.” If you’ve been hit by a drunk driver, the likelihood that person is fully responsible is high. That’s why it’s essential to get the police involved and test the driver for blood alcohol content (BAC).

BAC is also the basis of drunk driving charges in Massachusetts. If you’re the operator of a private vehicle and your BAC is found to be 0.08 percent or higher, you can be charged with an OUI (operating under the influence) violation. OUI is the charge for first and second offenders. After that, on a third or subsequent offense, the charge is driving under the influence (DUI), which carries much stiffer penalties.

Remember, under the Commonwealth’s implied consent law, you must submit to a breathalyzer or blood test if you’re suspected of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Also, operating does not necessarily mean driving the vehicle. You can be parked sleeping off a few too many, and so long as you have access to controlling the vehicle, you’re operating it.

Steps to Take if You’re Hit by a Drunk Driver

In any accident, you need to gather vital information from the other driver – contact information, insurance, and so on. You also need to question any witnesses and get their statements and contact information. Use your cell phone to take pictures or videos of the scene. And of course, take care of your own or others’ injuries by calling for help.

You also need to report the accident to the police so they can come to investigate. If you suspect the other driver is intoxicated, you may want to be on the lookout for specific signs of intoxication.

The use of eye drops: Drivers who have been using substances that may not appear on a breathalyzer test, such as marijuana or other drugs, might use eye drops to make their appearance look more normal. If you see the driver using eye drops, inform the police when they arrive.

The smell of alcohol on the driver’s breath: The driver may try to use breath spray, gums, mints, or the like to cover the smell of booze. If you notice this, inform investigating officers.

Throwing out containers or drug paraphernalia: If anytime before, during, or after the accident, you observe the driver or a passenger throwing out liquor containers or drug paraphernalia, inform the police.

Switching seats: Intoxicated drivers may try to switch seats with a passenger to avoid an OUI or DUI. Be observant.

Remember, the effects of alcohol wear off over time, so if you can’t convince police to test the suspected drunk driver at the scene or haul the person in immediately for a blood or breath test, you may lose your claim that the driver was intoxicated. The person’s BAC may fall below the limit, or the person may sail into the sunset without a test, and there goes your case. Still, under the laws of negligence and duty of care, you should have a case.

Third-Party Liability

Under Massachusetts case law, it is possible to hold those who contributed to the drunk driver’s insobriety liable. Under what is called a dram shop claim, you may be able to hold a bar or restaurant liable for continuing to supply liquor to someone who is already inebriated.

Under a social host claim, if an inebriated driver became so at a gathering held by a private citizen, the commonwealth may be able to file criminal charges against the host, but the victim of the drunk driver cannot obtain compensation for injuries and losses as they could with a dram shop claim.

Working with a Skilled Personal Injury Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident with a suspected intoxicated driver, contact me immediately at the Law Office of James A. Maniatis. The sooner we can work on the case and investigate the circumstances, the sooner we can compile a strong portfolio of evidence for your claim. 

I can also handle all negotiations with insurance claims adjusters, who use tactics to lowball or deny claims. I can stand up to their tactics and tricks and help you obtain the best possible result. I also know when it’s appropriate to file a personal injury lawsuit.

The Law Office of James A. Maniatis proudly serves clients in Shrewsbury, Southborough, Webster, Westborough, Northborough, Grafton, Boylston, Millbury, Upton, Dudley, Oxford, or anywhere throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.