My heart goes out to Cristal Waller. Waller is the mother of Devon Meyer, a four year old who lost his left arm last Thanksgiving. Devon was injured in a preventable collision. The car in which Devon was riding was struck by a second car which had crossed the centerline of a north St. Louis County road. The second car was driven by a drunk driver.
Waller recently was reminded of the on-going frustrations encountered by the victims of drunk driving. Through no fault of their own, drunk driving victims often face terrible injury, long recoveries, difficult rehabilitation, emotional devastation, mounting medical expense and, from time to time, exasperation with the legal process.
Prompt personal legal counsel is essential to assist the injured through the wreckage caused by drunk drivers. Experienced legal counsel will educate you about your rights and responsibilities, answer questions about the criminal prosecution of drunk drivers and the building of a personal injury case, investigate potential sources of recovery, and advocate your interests before the local prosecutor, insurance company representative and investigators, and defense counsel.
Most folks don’t realize that the justice system may move in two parallel, yet complimentary systems.
On one hand, a prosecutor will review the result of any police investigation of the collision. The prosecutor reviews the police report to determine whether the drunk driver may be prosecuted by the State for violating state criminal statutes governing the driving of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The potential result of a criminal prosecution may include a fine, probation or time in jail – the loss of one’s personal liberty.
On the other hand, the drunk driver’s victims also possess a personal injury case against the drunk driver. Further, the victim may have a civil case against any party that provided the drunk driver with alcohol. Those cases require extensive investigation by counsel knowledgeable about the laws governing the civil liability of bars, restaurants and “social hosts”. In any event, the potential result of any civil case is limited – limited to the recovery of money that may be used by the victim to pay medical expense, make up for time lost from work or as compensation for personal injury. Personal counsel cannot put the drunk driver in jail should the prosecutor opt not to pursue criminal charges.
In sum, personal legal counsel will:
- Educate you about the process entailed in the prosecution of both criminal and civil claims against the drunk driver
- Investigate the potential sources of financial recovery against both the driver and any party who sold, distributed or otherwise provided alcoholic beverages to the driver
- Direct the victim on how to handle bills that follow the medical care and treatment made necessary by the drunk driver
- Guide the victim on how to document their personal, physical and emotional loss, especially those harms and losses encountered during their recovery
- Serve as the victim’s “mouthpiece” and personal representative in interactions with the local prosecutor plus the drunk driver’s insurance company, investigators, and own legal counsel.
Matt Devoti is a partner with Casey & Devoti, a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm. Matt handles all types of personal injury cases with a special emphasis on victims of drunk and distracted driving crashes.