Alcohol intoxication continues to be a significant factor in vehicular accidents throughout the Last Frontier. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Alaska averaged up to 23 fatalities related to impaired driving between 2016 and 2020, translating into 31% of the state’s total fatalities throughout that period. In 2021 alone, intoxication also contributed to 22% of Alaska’s traffic-related deaths, matching the same percentage in 2020. Most of the state’s alcohol-suspected serious injuries and deaths in the last few years occurred in the municipality of Anchorage, followed by the Fairbanks North Star, Juneau City, Kenai, and Matanuska Susitna boroughs.
Because accidents caused by intoxication often involve catastrophic results, Alaska imposes laws that prohibit motorists from operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic substances. It also has a variety of penalties in place for those who violate such laws, along with statutory guidelines for people or establishments that serve or sell alcohol in the state. This article will offer basic insight into these laws, including those that affect the proceedings and factors involved in a claim or lawsuit if a person suffers injury or death due to a drunk driver.
Alaska’s General DUI Laws
The laws that affect DUI-related offenses in Alaska cover a variety of factors that can lead to an infraction. These include the legal alcohol limit for motorists, the circumstances that can escalate a regular offense into aggravated DUI, and the requirement for motorists to submit to chemical tests. They also cover the provision of emergency aid to those who are suffering from alcohol intoxication as well as statutory regulations regarding the consumption of alcoholic beverages while driving.
Legal Limits in Alaska
Like all other states, Alaska has legal limits for a person’s blood alcohol concentration level depending on whether they are a personal or commercial driver. For most motorists, the legal per se limit in Alaska is 0.08%, while the limit for commercial drivers is even lower at 0.04%. BAC levels are measured through the use of blood and breath chemical tests, and any motorist whose BAC exceeds the legal limit will be charged with a DUI infraction.
Alaska’s Zero Tolerance Law
Alaska also follows a zero-tolerance law, wherein any motorist under the age of 21 will be found guilty of DUI if there is any detectable amount of alcohol in their system, regardless of its level. Like with other DUI infractions, repeat offenses committed by a minor can result in the escalation of minimum penalties. This can also happen if an underage offender operates a vehicle within 24 hours of being cited for driving under the influence.
Alaska’s Good Samaritan Law
Under Alaska’s “good samaritan” law, people from hospitals or any other location who provide emergency aid to an individual whose health or life is in danger will not be held liable for any civil damages resulting from their actions. This law applies to those who render aid to someone who is injured, incapacitated, or ill due to the effects of alcohol consumption.
Aggravated DUI in Alaska
DUI offenses result in a variety of penalties, depending on the number of infractions a motorist has already committed. Moreover, these sanctions can further worsen if the offender’s charge escalates to aggravated DUI. This can occur if:
The offender was previously convicted of a DUI infraction.
The offender had a child passenger.
The offender had a BAC level of 0.15% or more.
The offender caused an accident that resulted in a person’s injury or death.
Alaska’s Open Container Law
Alaska also has an open container law that prohibits a motorist from driving with an open can, bottle, or receptacle containing any alcoholic beverage in their vehicle’s passenger compartment. They can only do so if the container in question is:
Within their vehicle’s trunk.
Inside another container on a motor-driven cycle or behind the last upright seat in a station wagon, motor home, or any similar vehicle
Behind a solid partition that separates the driver from other passengers.
Alaska’s Implied Consent Law
When confronting motorists who are suspected of driving under the influence, law enforcement personnel in Alaska enforce the state’s implied consent law. This legal statute dictates that a person who operates a vehicle automatically gives their consent to undergo a chemical test to determine their BAC level. This also applies to those who operate any type of aircraft, watercraft, or motor vehicle that has been involved in an accident.
An officer who has good reason to believe that the person in question is a minor who has consumed alcohol or whose ability to drive is impaired will administer a chemical test. Prior to administering the test, an officer will inform the individual that refusing to submit to the test will result in an infraction. If the person refuses, they will be convicted and penalized accordingly, and their refusal will be treated as admissible evidence in any resulting civil or criminal action if they have committed another violation or caused an accident.
Law enforcement officers in Alaska may bypass the implied consent law and administer a chemical test even without a DUI offender’s consent if the person is unconscious or in a condition that renders them incapable of refusing. This can also apply if the driver is involved in an accident that results in another person’s injury or death.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI in Alaska?
Motorists who are found guilty of driving a personal or commercial vehicle while under the influence in Alaska will be penalized based on how many DUI offenses they have already committed within a specific period. Those guilty of a first and second offense will be charged with a misdemeanor, while third and subsequent offenses within 10 years of a previous offense can result in a felony charge.
Penalties for a DUI offense include:
Use of an Ignition Interlock Device
Mandatory minimum jail sentence of 72 hours (for the first offense) or 360 days (for sixth/subsequent non-felony offenses)
Minimum fine of $1,500 (for the first offense) or $7,000 (for sixth/subsequent non-felony offenses)
Revocation of the offender’s driving license and/or privilege to obtain one for at least 90 days
Ignition interlock device usage for a minimum of six months (except in communities that are not part of the state road system)
Mandatory minimum jail sentence of 120 days (for the third offense) or 360 days (for fifth/subsequent offenses)
Minimum fine of $10,000
Permanent revocation of the offender’s driving license and/or their privilege to drive/obtain a license
Ignition interlock device usage for a minimum of 60 months (except in communities that are not part of the state road system)
Those found guilty of driving a commercial vehicle while carrying a license revoked (DWLR) due to a DUI offense or their refusal to submit to a chemical test will be jailed for a minimum of 10 days, with 10 days suspended. However, if they had been previously charged with a DWLR infraction where their license was revoked due to any of the aforementioned offenses, they will be jailed for a minimum of 10 days with no suspension.
In addition to these penalties, a commercial vehicle driver will be temporarily disqualified from operating a vehicle if they commit a misdemeanor DUI offense. The disqualification is permanent if they are charged with felony DUI. On the other hand, a driver whose personal license was permanently revoked due to a felony DUI offense can appeal for its restoration if they meet certain conditions, and only after 10 years have passed.
Furthermore, if the offender is a minor, they will pay a minimum fine ranging from $500 to $1,500 and participate in mandatory community service lasting a maximum of 40 to 80 hours. Like with the aforementioned penalties, these depend on whether the minor is a first-time or repeat offender.
Alaska’s Dram Shop Law
Like in other states, Alaska has its own dram shop law, which dictates that an establishment that sells alcohol can be held accountable for serving an individual who is already intoxicated and causes an accident later on. Under this law, bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and other similar venues will be liable for the damages caused by a drunk driver who gets into an accident if:
The offender was already visibly intoxicated when the establishment sold or served alcohol to them.
The offender was under 21.
The person who served the offender has an alcohol license or works for an employer with such a license.
Alaska’s dram shop law does not apply to social hosts of parties and gatherings. However, under the state’s law concerning social host liability, a host can still face criminal charges and be held liable for any resulting damages if they serve alcohol to a minor who subsequently causes a motor vehicle crash due to their intoxication.
In order to prevent potential accidents caused by an intoxicated individual, the employees, agents, or licensees of establishments in Alaska may refuse to sell or serve liquor to someone if they believe that this alcohol consumption can lead to harm to themselves or others. While they can serve alcohol any day of the week, they can only do so from 8 a.m. to 5 a.m., except on election days and in localities where more restrictive hours are followed. Additionally, any individual who serves, distributes, sells, or stocks alcohol must be at least 21 years old.
If they are deemed liable under Alaska’s dram shop law, businesses that sell alcohol can use liquor liability insurance coverage if they have such a policy. This helps them pay for the losses caused by a patron to whom they have served or sold alcohol.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Drunk Driving Injury in Alaska?
Alaska does not impose any statutory limitations on the economic damages victims and their representatives can recover in a drunk driving case, meaning they can be potentially reimbursed for their monetary losses in full. These damages can include medical costs, lost income, and repair expenditures, as well as burial expenses if the victim perished in the accident.
However, the state does limit non-economic damages to compensation related to a victim’s pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience, and physical disfigurement or impairment. According to state law, any award for such damages resulting from a single injury or death is only eligible for up to $400,000 or the victim's years of life expectancy times $8,000, whichever is greater. The cap rises to amounts not exceeding $1 million or the victim's years of life expectancy times $25,000 if the victim experiences severe disfigurement or permanent physical impairment.
In addition to economic and non-economic damages, Alaska courts may award punitive damages if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant in a drunk driving case showed outrageous conduct, malice, or reckless indifference to others’ safety or interests. Alaska law states that punitive damages in a case will be limited to $500,000, or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff.
Another legal factor that can affect remuneration in a drunk driving case is Alaska’s pure comparative negligence rule. Under this legal principle, a plaintiff who is partially responsible for the incident that caused their injury will have their total damages reduced based on the percentage of their liability. For example, if the court awards $100,000 in damages but also finds the plaintiff to be 25% at fault, it will deduct the same percentage from the damage award, leaving them with only $75,000.
The pure comparative negligence rule allows plaintiffs to recover damages even if they are 99% at fault. This differs from the modified comparative negligence rule in other states, which bars plaintiffs from pursuing compensation if their fault percentage is equal to or greater than a given number.
The Statute of Limitations in Alaska
Under Alaska’s civil statute of limitations, DUI victims have up to two years to take legal action and recover damages from at-fault drivers. This deadline applies in cases involving injuries and wrongful death. If a plaintiff attempts to file a claim or lawsuit beyond the given time, the court will likely dismiss their case.
However, Alaska also has specific legal guidelines that affect its statute of limitations for DUI cases. For instance, if the at-fault driver in a case is absent from the state or actively concealing themselves, the statute will only begin once they return to the state or when they show up. In addition, if they leave the state or hide after a cause for legal action accrues against them, the period of their absence or concealment will not be counted as part of the statute’s duration.
Another exception can arise in cases where the victim entitled to file a suit is a minor or deemed mentally incompetent due to an illness or disability. In these scenarios, the state will also not count the duration of the person’s legal disability as part of the two-year deadline. Meanwhile, the statute of limitations cannot be extended for more than two years after the person reaches 18 or recovers from their mental incapacity.
Resources for Folks Injured by an Impaired Driver in Alaska
The Alaska Bar Association offers online assistance to state residents who seek legal help. Its website has a directory of links redirecting to the websites of pro bono organizations that can aid low-income individuals with concerns related to legal representation. Its Member Directory allows people to search for a specific lawyer within the organization using their name, practice area, and location. Additionally, those who seek an attorney for discrete task representation may find one through the website’s Unbundled Legal Services section. Other sections are open for those who wish to file a complaint against an attorney or settle fee-related disputes.
The Alaska Highway Safety Office allows people who are involved in motor vehicle accidents to submit reports of the crash in question through the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities' website. This is required for drivers in accidents that result in injury, death, or total property damage worth at least $2,000. If the officer who investigated the accident requests it, the website provides instructions on how to submit a report and obtain a certificate of insurance. People who wish to obtain a copy of an accident report may download and complete the required form and submit it via e-mail at email@example.com or through mail at the address provided on the department’s website.
The Alaska DMV Driver Manual provides motorists in the state with an extensive overview of local traffic laws and safety guidelines. It contains information related to different traffic-related topics, including license requirements, financial responsibility, and motor vehicle accidents. Alaskans can also use the manual to learn about moving violations such as speeding, DUI, reckless driving, and assault with a motor vehicle. In addition, the manual has a directory containing the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles’ contact information and the addresses of DMV offices throughout the state.
InjuryLawRights is a personal injury law organization that assists car accident victims across the country by providing them with the opportunity to find a pro bono attorney for legal representation. Its staff addresses inquiries from people in Alaska who wish to have their case evaluated and connects them with a lawyer for a free initial consultation. It allows victims and their representatives to find specific lawyers based on their location and provides them with information on how to select one based on their financial means and legal needs. The organization can be contacted for further inquiries and concerns at 855-633-0888.
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