Impaired driving has been a significant factor in motor vehicle accidents throughout the state of Georgia in the past few years. Between 2019 and 2021, the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety reported a gradual increase in drunk driving fatalities, from 355 to 391 deaths within the three-year period. This contributed to the 20% increase in total traffic fatalities within the state from 2019 to 2022, translating into a heightened fatality rate of 26% per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In 2022, law enforcement officials in the state recorded an 11% and 13% increase in DUI arrests and impaired driving crashes, respectively. In Peachtree City alone, the local police reported that every fatal crash that happened in the same year was caused by a drunk driver.
To protect Georgians from crashes caused by impaired driving, the state’s government agencies employ initiatives that mitigate the dangers posed by drunk drivers. For example, the Georgia Department of Driver Services handles the DUI Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction Program, which aims to spread awareness and provide intervention options for those convicted of DUI. The state also enforces laws prohibiting citizens from operating a vehicle while intoxicated. This article will summarize these laws, along with the statutory rules involved in legal proceedings for accident victims who wish to pursue compensation from a drunk driver.
General DUI Laws in Georgia
Like all other states in the country, Georgia explicitly prohibits motorists from operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or any similar intoxicating substances. A motorist is considered intoxicated and thus in violation of state law if their blood alcohol concentration level is equal to or greater than 0.08%. Commercial vehicle drivers must adhere to a stricter limit of 0.04%. For motorists under the age of 21, their BAC level must not reach or exceed 0.02%.
Additionally, any motorist who transports a child under 14 years of age while intoxicated will be convicted of child endangerment. Under state law, such a charge will be judged separately, meaning the offender will likely face additional penalties on top of any sanctions imposed by the court for their DUI infraction.
Georgia’s Implied Consent Law
Under the implied consent law, motorists in Georgia will be deemed to have given their consent to undergo a chemical test that will determine their BAC level once they operate a vehicle. A law enforcement officer who has reason to believe that a driver is under the influence of alcohol administers the test. Any results from the test are considered admissible evidence in a resulting civil or criminal action stemming from the violation.
A chemical test will be carried out as soon as possible if a potential offender is involved in a traffic accident that resulted in fatalities or serious injuries. Even if a person is unconscious, dead, or in a condition that renders them incapable of refusing a test, state law dictates that the individual has not withdrawn their consent, meaning the test will still be administered.
Any motorist who refuses to undergo a chemical test will be charged accordingly, in violation of state law. Their refusal can be treated as admissible evidence in any resulting legal action, and their license will be suspended for one year on their first refusal. A second and third refusal may result in a suspension lasting for three and five years, respectively.
Georgia’s Open Container Law
In addition to DUI laws, Georgia has an open container law that prohibits motorists from drinking any alcoholic beverage or having an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of their vehicle while they are on the highway. According to state law, the passenger area is defined as the space where the vehicle’s front seats are located. Any offender will be fined a maximum of $200.
Drivers and passengers will not be in violation of the open container law if their alcoholic beverage is within a vehicle used as transportation for compensation purposes, such as buses, taxis, or rental limousines. A similar exception applies if the beverage or open container is within the living quarters of a house trailer or motor home.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI in Georgia?
Impaired drivers in Georgia will receive different sanctions depending on how many offenses they have already committed. As such, an offender who commits another DUI offense within five years of their previous one will face higher penalties.
Offenses can be classified as either misdemeanors or felonies. An offense can become a felony if:
The offender fled from an officer.
The offender has already had three or more DUI convictions in the past 10 years.
The offender caused an accident that injured or killed an individual or unborn baby.
Under state law, misdemeanor and underage DUI penalties in Georgia are as follows:
10 days to 12 months in jail
Minimum of $300 and maximum of $1,000 in fines
License suspension for up to 12 months ($210 fee for reinstatement)
Minimum of 40 hours of community service
Second offense within five years from the previous one
90 days to 12 months in jail; mandatory minimum of 48 hours
Minimum of $600 and maximum of $1,000 in fines
License revocation for up to three years ($210 fee for reinstatement)
Minimum of 30 days of community service
Third offense within five years from the previous one
120 days to 12 months in jail; mandatory minimum of 15 days
Minimum of $1,000 and maximum of $5,000 in fines
License revocation for up to five years
A minimum of 30 days of community service
Georgia courts can also sentence an offender to 12 months of probation, minus any time that they have already spent in jail. In order to suspend part of their jail sentence through probation, an offender must serve:
A minimum of 24 hours in jail for their first offense;
A minimum of 72 hours in jail for their second offense;
A minimum of 15 days in jail for their third offense.
In addition to these penalties, DUI offenders can be required to undergo a mandatory clinical evaluation and complete a substance abuse treatment program at their expense. They may also be required to surrender their license plates on their second offense and forfeit their vehicle if they are declared habitual violators. Additionally, they may be ordered to drive with an ignition interlock device for at least six months starting from their second offense, though the court can forego this penalty if the offender is experiencing financial hardship.
Felony DUI offenses in Georgia can result in greater sanctions, including:
One to five years in prison
$1,000 to $5,000 in fines
A minimum of 60 days of community service (which can be suspended if the offender is sentenced to three years in prison)
Participation in a clinical evaluation and a substance abuse treatment program, if recommended
Completion of a risk reduction program within 120 days of the offender’s conviction
Georgia’s Dram Shop Law
In Georgia, victims of accidents caused by drunk drivers can hold establishments accountable for serving or selling alcohol to an offender under the state’s dram shop law. According to this rule, an establishment will be partially liable for the damages in any resulting accident if it knowingly served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or minor and if it was aware that the person in question would soon be driving a vehicle.
It should be noted that Georgia’s dram shop law also applies to social hosts that hold parties or gatherings. This means that such people can also be held liable if they give alcohol to a minor or a noticeably drunk individual who ends up causing a motor vehicle crash later on.
In order to regulate the sale and service of alcohol, an establishment must first obtain a liquor license, depending on the type of alcoholic beverages they sell or serve. In Georgia, a store, bar, or restaurant must have both a state-issued license and a municipal license. This is because municipalities each have their own fees and requirements for a liquor license. Generally, any licensee or employee who serves or sells alcohol must be at least 18 years old, although certain municipalities in Georgia may enforce a higher age requirement.
To protect themselves financially in case they are held accountable under the state’s dram shop law, establishments in Georgia can purchase liquor liability insurance. This policy will address any expenses related to a victim’s medical treatment and damaged property, as well as legal fees on the establishment’s part.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Drunk Driving Injury in Georgia?
Georgia abolished its caps on all compensatory damages in personal injury cases in 2010 after the Supreme Court declared such limitations unconstitutional. This allows the victims of crashes caused by drunk drivers to pursue maximum compensation for both their economic and non-economic losses. The jury may also award additional damages to compensate for the plaintiff’s “wounded feelings” and deter the defendant from repeating their wrongdoing if there are aggravating circumstances present in their action or intention.
Economic damages refer to monetary losses caused by:
Present and future medical treatment
Burial or cremation expenses (in case the victim perished from their injuries)
Lost income or loss of earning capacity
Repairs or replacements for damaged property
On the other hand, non-economic damages result from intangible factors like:
Pain and suffering
Inconvenience caused by the victim’s disability
Loss of companionship
Loss of enjoyment of life
Georgia courts can also award punitive or exemplary damages to a plaintiff if there is clear and sufficient evidence that the defendant acted with reckless indifference to others’ safety or displayed willful, wanton, and malicious conduct. However, unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages in Georgia are limited to $250,000. In addition, 75% of the punitive damages awarded in the case will be paid into the state treasury.
Furthermore, while there are no damage caps in Georgia, a plaintiff’s total damages can be reduced under the state’s modified comparative negligence law. Under this legal rule, if a plaintiff is partially at fault for the incident that caused their injury, the court will deduct a portion of their damage award equal to the percentage of their fault. If the plaintiff’s fault reaches or exceeds 50%, they can no longer recover any damages whatsoever.
The Statute of Limitations in Georgia
Under Georgia’s civil statute of limitations, plaintiffs in drunk driving accident cases have a maximum of two years to take legal action against an offending motorist, starting from the date of the accident. The same deadline applies for wrongful death due to DUI, though the statute begins counting down on the date of the victim’s passing instead. If a plaintiff’s damages are related to loss of consortium, they will have up to four years to file a suit.
There are scenarios where Georgia’s statute of limitations is tolled or delayed due to legal disabilities, granting a plaintiff more time to file a claim or lawsuit. For example, if the plaintiff is a minor or someone who is deemed incompetent due to a mental illness or handicap, the statute will only begin once they reach the age of 18 or when their incompetence is remedied. Additionally, if a plaintiff suffers a disability through no fault of their own after the statute has already begun counting down, it will be paused for the duration of their disability.
If there is a joint action with multiple plaintiffs in a case and at least one of them is legally incompetent, state law dictates that the statute of limitations will be paused until such disabilities are removed. On the other hand, if the plaintiffs can take legal action individually, the statute will be tolled only for those with the aforementioned disabilities. Joint actions can occur if a drunk driver injures or kills multiple people in an accident.
Another exception can be made in cases where the defendant leaves the state before the plaintiff can take legal action against them. In this scenario, the period of the defendant’s absence from the state will not be counted as part of the statute’s duration.
Resources for DUI Defendants and Folks Injured by an Impaired Driver in Georgia
The State Bar of Georgia provides people throughout the state with online options that address their legal needs. The organization has a Find-A-Lawyer section where Georgians can search for attorneys who are available for free consultations or legal representation using their name, location, and practice areas. Its website also has a directory of legal resources covering various subjects, ranging from insurance and state laws to federal courts and indigent defense. Additionally, the organization offers basic information on how to submit complaints against a judge or attorney for suspected judicial or ethical misconduct.
GeorgiaLegalAid.org is a joint project established by the Georgia Legal Services Program and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. Its goal is to provide residents of the Peach State with access to legal resources and basic information related to civil law matters. Its website covers a diverse selection of topics, including the local criminal justice system, court backgrounds, public benefits, and accidents. While the project does not directly connect Georgians with a lawyer for legal representation, it can provide individuals and families with additional civil law resources and referrals through its portal.
The GDOT offers access to information involving motor vehicle crashes that have occurred on state roads. Its dashboard can be filtered to show specific data related to an accident’s location, type, and date, along with the type of vehicles involved. Additionally, the department allows residents to obtain copies of crash reports directly through LexisNexis BuyCrash or by completing and submitting an individual accident report request form. Those with additional inquiries regarding their report can contact 1-866-215-2771 or send an email to LexisNexis’ customer support at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a nationwide organization providing drunk and drugged driving accident victims with free legal assistance and supportive services. Its members assist Georgians in learning about the laws and processes involved in claims or lawsuits related to impaired driving accidents, along with their rights in such proceedings. They help victims prepare statements, connect with other survivors and emotional support groups, and locate potential attorneys who can represent them. If needed, they can also provide additional resources related to a victim’s case and accompany them in court proceedings. Those who wish to speak to a victim advocate from the organization can contact MADD at 1-877-623-3435. Advocates are available on a 24/7 basis.
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