Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

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When a person is injured in a car accident in Florida, no matter who is at fault, that person’s own auto insurance pays 80% of his or her medical expenses and 60% of lost wages up to a combined total of $10,000.00.  This coverage is called “personal injury protection” or “PIP,” for short.  This amount of insurance can be expended quickly for a person suffering serious car accident injuries.

Currently, most medical providers are only allowed to charge set rates when billing under PIP insurance.  Those rates are set at twice the rates paid by Medicare for the same services as identified by billing codes.  This means that a medical provider gets paid twice as much for treating a person injured in auto accident as compared to treating a person with Medicare coverage.

This limitation on the rates that can be charged has proven to be fair.  The rates are high enough that skilled medical providers are willing to see people injured in auto accidents, but low enough that the patient can receive several months of care before PIP is exhausted.

However, hospitals and emergency care providers are not subject to these rate limits. Rather, hospital rates are set at a very vague standard of 75% of “usual and customary” charges.  “Usual” hospital billing, before adjustments are made, are typically inflated by much more than 100% over what the hospital would accept from a private insurer.  Essentially, the hospital never gets paid anywhere near the amount of its original billed amounts.  Seventy-five percent of such amounts still comes to about twice of what is a fair charge for the services at issue.

Florida’s House of Representatives has proposed changing this.  Florida’ House Health and Human Services Committee proposes to include hospital and emergency care providers in the manner as post-acute medical providers by limiting the charges to 200% of Medicare rates.

A few other changes are proposed.  Currently, a person injured in a car accident in Florida has 14 days to see a medical provider in order to be entitled to benefits under a PIP auto policy.  The House proposal includes extending that period to 30 days; however, a provider will be required to submit treatment plans to the auto insurance company.  If a treatment plan is not submitted, then the PIP insurer will not be obligated to pay that provider.

Since originally enacted in 1972, PIP coverage has proven to have benefits and costs.  It ensures that people hurt in car accidents have some access to coverage for their medical bills and lost wages.  However, it also requires that a person suffer a permanent injury in order to recover anything more than the portion of medical expenses and lost wages that remain unpaid after PIP has paid its majority share.

This “permanency” requirement may sound fair; however, it can be misused by auto insurers.  In nearly every auto accident injury case we handle, once suit is filed, the insurer requires our client be seen by a doctor chosen the the insurance company.  There are four or five doctors here in the Jacksonville area that we see time and time again.  These doctors make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year doing these reviews and uniformly minimize clients injuries and often claim the client was never injured at all.

Sometimes, jurors agree with the insurance company’s doctor – meaning that a person injured in an accident may not only be denied compensation for pain and suffering, but might actually end up owing the insurance company for its expenses, and sometimes attorney fees, simply because a hired gun doctor claimed the person was not really injured.

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Using statistics for the year of 2017, the City of Jacksonville had the third highest number of fatalities per capita in car and truck accidents caused by a driver operating under the influence.  More specifically, Jacksonville suffered an alarming 5.6 DUI deaths per 100,000 residents in 2017.  Nationwide, the average for 2017 was 3.4 DUI related deaths per 100,000 people.

In Florida, 515 people died in DUI vehicle crashes in 2017.  Of all of the traffic fatalities in the United States in 2017, 29% involved drunk drivers.  Sixty-eight percent of car accidents with drunk driving fatalities involve at least one driver with a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher, nearly twice the legal limit.

From 2015 to 2017, there have been 138 DUI crash deaths in Jacksonville.  In Jacksonville, U.S. 1 (Philips Highway) has been the most common location of DUI accident fatalities with 15 people killed.

It is not known why Jacksonville has had such a high rate of DUI deaths.  Different factors may come into play.  First, Jacksonville has a great deal of interstate highway, with I-95 traversing the entire length of the county from north to south and I-10 spanning from the center of the county to its western border.  Interstates, with high speed limits and heavy trucking traffic are common sites of serious car and truck accidents.

Second, there has been an immense degree of road construction ongoing throughout the Jacksonville area for years, especially in the downtown and J.Turner Butler Boulevard areas.  Road construction projects are common locations for car accidents as: the normal flow pattern of traffic can catch a driver off guard; construction vehicles entering the roadways can cause accidents; and traffic slowdowns always lead to rear-end car accidents. Of course, drinking while driving only compounds these problems.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been recording the number of alcohol related car accidents since 1982.  Thankfully, the number of DUI fatalities has decreased 48% since 1982.  Of course, as an entirely preventable tragedy, no level of DUI fatalities is acceptable.

The heartbreak of losing a loved one in a collision caused by a drunk driver cannot be overstated.  Many emotions are involved.  Along with unimaginable grief, survivors often experience a wide array of emotions including anger at the drunk driver, anger towards any establishment that served the drunk driver and the legal system itself if that driver had prior DUI arrests.

It costs nothing out of pocket to hire an injury attorney early in the process and doing so can help protect your rights.  For example, many public areas and roadways are videotaped, which can be obtained and preserved if timely requests are made.  Likewise, most newer vehicles contain data recorders which help demonstrate the erratic nature of the driver prior to impact.

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The year on Jacksonville’s roadways has gotten off to a dangerous start.  To date this year, forty-nine people have died in traffic accidents in Jacksonville, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.  This is thirteen more deaths than the average for this point in the year and the trend only seems like it will continue.  In separate incidents, two pedestrians were struck yesterday, one of whom was a woman who was killed while trying to cross 103rd Street on Jacksonville’s westside.

Pedestrian traffic fatalities are on the rise.  According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, there have been an average of thirty-nine pedestrian deaths per year during the last five years and roughly one in four traffic deaths in the city involve a pedestrian.

Jacksonville is not known to be a particularly pedestrian friendly city.  In fact, for the year of 2016, Jacksonville was rated as the fourth worst city in the country for pedestrian danger according to the National Complete Streets Coalition.  Many busy roadways in Jacksonville have no sidewalks, many roads are poorly lit, busy intersections have no crosswalks, crosswalks that do exist often do no provide enough time for slower walkers to get across and pedestrians and drivers often fail to pay attention.

The Florida Highway Patrol has designated April as “Distracted Driving Awareness Month”; however, the blame does not rest solely on drivers.  Pedestrians are becoming increasingly distracted by cellphones as they walk.  Texting, social media and surfing the net all play a role in “distracted walking,” which can be deadly.

There are things pedestrians can do to avoid being involved in an accident with a vehicle, including:

-wear brightly colored clothing at night;

-carry a flashlight at night;

-do not step out from beside a parked car or hedge when crossing the street;

-cross only at designated crosswalks;

-look left, then right, then left again before crossing;

-do not allow yourself to be distracted when crossing;

-walk on sidewalks when available;

-even if you have a “walk” signal at a crosswalk, make sure that drivers are stopped or coming to a stop;

– do not wear headphones while crossing the roadway;

– do not walk near roadways while intoxicated; and

– if there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic.

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Since 1976, Florida law has required that all vehicle owners purchase personal injury protection insurance coverage.  Personal injury protection (commonly called “PIP”) coverage provides medical and lost wage benefits for people injured in car accidents.  PIP coverage, also referred to a “no-fault” coverage, applies to injuries suffered by the vehicle owner and occupants in the vehicle regardless of fault.  In other words, your own auto insurer pays for up to $10,000.00 for your medical expenses and lost wages even if another driver was at fault for causing the car accident.

By requiring these benefits, Florida’s PIP statute prevents injured persons from seeking reimbursement for pain and suffering unless the person suffered a permanent injury, the loss of an “important bodily function,” significant scarring, or death.  In other words, if you suffered injuries in a car accident but eventually returned to normal, an at fault driver and his or her auto insurance company are only obligated to pay any unpaid medical bills or lost wages.

Concerns have arisen that PIP has provided fertile ground for insurance fraud by medical providers and unscrupulous accident “victims” charging for unnecessary medical care.  The cost for PIP coverage, which can duplicate health insurance benefits that most Floridians now have, was also a concern.

During Florida’s most recent legislative session, House Bill 461 was introduced to repeal and replace Florida’s PIP law.  Instead of requiring PIP coverage, the bill, if enacted as law, would require that every vehicle owner carry bodily injury coverage of $25,000.00 per person and $50,000.00 in aggregate bodily injury coverage if two or more persons are injured.  Currently, Florida law does not require that vehicle owners carry any bodily injury coverage at all.  It was estimated that, if enacted, repealing PIP would save Florida car owners approximately $80.00 annually.

Florida personal injury car accident lawyers are mixed on the idea.  The existing PIP framework allows for injured persons to have their medical expenses and lost wages paid.  This makes it easier for them to obtain medical care, especially for those who do not have health insurance.  Also, medical bills paid by PIP do not have to be paid back to the client’s auto insurer if the client receives a financial recovery from the at-fault driver’s insurer.

On the other hand, people who have suffered serious injuries sometimes lose their case because a jury does not agree that the person has suffered a permanent injury.  This most commonly arises with injuries to intervertebral discs. Spinal discs tend to degenerate over time and can be likened to brake pads that eventually wear out.  Some people who have never suffered an  accident or any trauma of significance have herniated or bulging discs.  Because of this, the presence of a herniated or bulging disc identified on an MRI is not the same as an x-ray that shows a person suffered a broken bone in an accident.

Insurers hire doctors of their own choosing who routinely testify that herniated or bulging discs were not caused by an accident. Unfortunately, the car insurers do this in almost every disc injury case even if the injured person never previously suffered from neck or back pain in their entire life prior to the car accident.

The result can be very unfair.  A jury may very well check the “no” box on the verdict form indicating a legitimately injured claimant suffered no permanent injury, which then results in a loss and subjects that person to a judgment for the insurer’s significant court costs.

If PIP is repealed, the “permanency” threshold will not apply, and jurors will simply award the amount of compensation to which a person is entitled, assuming the jury finds the other driver to be at fault for causing the accident.

For the time being, Florida’s PIP laws will remain in place as the House bill died during the legislative session as the Senate failed to vote on it before the session ended.  Similar bills will certainly be proposed in the future.  Continue reading

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You’re driving down the road and someone cuts you off. You’re understandably mad, so you might yell and wave your fist. But that’s not always where it stops. For many drivers, emotions continue to escalate.

Nationally, incidents of road rage are on the rise.  A recent study from AAA shows 80 percent of drivers admit to expressing significant aggression, anger or road rage in the past year. The same study shows that men are more likely than women to express aggression on the road and that 56 percent of fatal accidents involve at least one form of aggressive driving.

Road rage behavior includes tailgating, blocking and cutting off other drivers and repeated horn honking. All of these can lead to car accidents, injuries and even death.

Earlier this year in Jacksonville, a trucker from New Jersey was shot and killed by another truck driver due to road rage resulting from an earlier traffic confrontation.

Truckers often warn passenger vehicle drivers about the dangers of cutting them off because they simply cannot stop in time to avoid a collision. Not only are they extremely heavy and hard to stop, hitting the brakes hard causes the braking system to dysfunction and can shift the truck’s load out of balance.

Car accidents caused by road rage are not uncommon in Jacksonville, especially since many roadways are congested due to what seems like never-ending construction. Whether you are on the giving or receiving end of road rage, here a few tips to keep you safe:

  • Move over is someone is tailgating you and travel in the right lane if you are driving slower than other traffic.
  • Never engage with someone who has yelled or gestured at you. Most of the time, the person who is angry is not thinking rationally, so trying to engage with them won’t work out well.
  • Use an “I’m sorry” gesture if you accidentally do something offensive to another driver.
  • If an angry driver is following you, don’t pull over and don’t drive home. Instead, call 911 and drive to a fire or police station, or public place like a shopping mall for help.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going. Running late causes anxiety and impatience.
  • Listen to soothing music and relax your shoulders when driving.
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the woman trying to get over to the far right lane is rushing a child to the emergency room.
  • Be mindful of other drivers and always use your turn signal.
  • Lay off the horn. Excessive honking stresses drivers.
  • Don’t be distracted by anything. Checking your phone, putting on makeup, texting, even eating, don’t mix well with driving.
  • Don’t tailgate. Follow at a safe distance – allow 10 feet for every 10 mph you are traveling. So if you are going 60 mph, there should be 60 feet between you and car ahead.
  • If you you notice dangerous or aggressive driving, have a passenger write down the license plate number, date, time, and road you are on and contact the Florida Highway Patrol by dialing *FHP. The best people to handle bad drivers are law enforcement professionals

Written by Elizabeth Allen. Continue reading

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When a vehicle breaks down or runs of gas in a lane of traffic, especially on an interstate or expressway, the effects can be devastating.  Just today, a man from Orange Park died when his vehicle was struck from behind by an 18 wheeler on Interstate 95 in Flagler County near Palm Coast. The accident happened in the early morning hours and the car may not have had its lights on.  The reason for the car being stopped on the interstate is not currently known.

Our attorneys have handled numerous serious injury cases resulting from an accident with a vehicle broken down on an interstate or expressway.  Vehicle owners who fail to properly maintain their vehicles or who run out of gas will be responsible for personal injuries or wrongful death that results from an accident.  It is also necessary that the operator of the car or truck remove it from lanes of traffic as soon as possible. Commercial trucks, including tractor trailers, are also required to put out traffic cones so as to warn oncoming drivers of the lane obstruction ahead.

Our lawyers handled a case where a man suffered serious personal injuries after colliding with a moving truck broken down in the outside lane of I-95 in Nassau County, just north of the Duval County line.  The moving truck was broken down for hours before the collision occurred.  The insurer for the moving company tried to blame our injured client by claiming that he should have seen the truck and avoided it like so many other drivers did in the hours that the truck was obstructing I-95.

We were able to prevail by demonstrating that the truck failed to properly put out required warning signs and failed to have the truck removed in a timely fashion.  Also, the claim that our client was negligent was not credible due to the fact that the accident happened shortly after dark, during rush hour, and occurred just after our client changed from the middle lane to the outside lane immediately prior to the location of the truck, preventing him from being able to see it in time to react.

We also recently made a recovery for all of the available insurance coverage limits (both bodily injury and uninsured motorist coverages) for a woman who suffered serious spinal disc injuries when the car in which she was a passenger struck a vehicle broken down on the Dames Point Bridge.

Surprisingly, the car in which our client was riding had dash cam footage of the accident.  The footage showed the other car stopped in the outside lane.  As the Dames Point Bridge has no emergency lane, the broken down vehicle was obstructing more than half of the lane.  The owner of that car placed a cooler in the road to warn oncoming drivers; however, the cooler was only a few yards from the car, providing very little notice.

The driver of the car our client was in failed to observe the other car in the interstate and drove straight into it without braking our changing lanes.  With the dash cam, it was clear that that driver had several seconds to react before the collision.  As a result both the driver of the car our client was in and the driver of the broken down car were responsible for causing the accident. Continue reading

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Interstate 95 which runs through the length of Jacksonville’s Duval County and goes directly through downtown, is the country’s fifth deadliest interstate according to Everquote Auto Insurance Company.  Everquote compiled data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

I-95 had nearly one death per mile during the five year period of 2010 to 2015.  To put that in perspective, I-95 traverses approximately 30 miles in Duval County – meaning there were nearly 30 deaths on this stretch of interstate during the five year period.

Interstate 10, the eastern end of which begins in Jacksonville, was ranked the seventh most deadly with .85 deaths per mile.  Interstate 4, which runs from Tampa to Daytona, is Florida’s deadliest interstate with an astonishing 1.4 deaths per mile. I-4 is our nation’s fourth deadliest interstate.

The U.S. Department of Transportation also reports a greater than 10% increase in traffic deaths from January 1, 2016, compared to the same six months of 2015.  This may be an anomaly, it may result from an increase of vehicles on the road due to a sharp decrease in gas prices, or it may be due to an increase in distracted driving.  No matter what the cause, we should experience a decrease in collisions over time, not an increase.

What is worse is that 2015 brought the highest increase in traffic fatalities in fifty years according to the National Safety Council.  More than 38,000 people were killed in vehicle accidents in 2015 and another 4 million people required medical care for injuries.  Furthermore, 2014 showed an 8% increase over 2013.  Even though more miles are being driven in the years since the recession that began in 2008, the rate of fatal accidents has outpaced the increase in total miles driven.  The exact cause is not known; however, we suspect that texting, tweeting and using Facebook while driving have played a significant role.

We certainly seem to see more drivers than ever on their cell phones while driving at highway speeds. Whenever I notice someone using their phone while driving (typing, not talking), I take measures to make sure that person does not end up behind me.  Texters often fail to appreciate slowing traffic in time and frequently cause rear-end collisions.

Because interstates involve much higher speeds than local roads, the chances of suffering severe injury or death in a collision are higher than accidents that occur on local roadways.  Further complicating things is that the downtown Jacksonville portion of I-95 has been under constant construction for over ten years now.  Construction causes abrupt lane changes, sudden stops and confusion to motorists, all of which contribute to the chances an accident will occur. Continue reading

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In January, a twenty-nine year old driver caused a fatal accident driving the wrong way on Interstate 295 near the intersection with Interstate 95 here in Jacksonville.  The car crash happened at 4:00 a.m.  Sadly, a sixty-nine year old military veteran and grandfather died as a result of the accident.  The wrong way driver was also critically injured in the crash.

Hours after the accident, the blood alcohol level of the wrong way driver was .117 – well above Florida’s .08 maximum blood alcohol level.  Given that alcohol in the blood dissipates at the rate of approximately .015% per hour, a two hour delay between the accident and blood testing would put the driver’s blood alcohol level at .147, nearly twice the legal limit.  The wrong way driver was not arrested for driving under the influence/manslaughter until last week – six months after the collision.

 

Wrong way car accidents are much more common than many people think. During 2015, there were 1490 wrong way crashes in Florida alone – more than four per day.  Because wrong way car accidents typically cause head-on collisions, the injuries that result are often tragic. This is illustrated by the 96 fatalities and 1454 injuries that resulted from 2015’s 1490 crashes. In more than two-thirds of wrong way car accidents, the driver was either injured or killed.

Whenever I hear of a wrong way accident, I tend to assume the driver going the wrong way was intoxicated; however, the statistics do not support this presumption.  With respect to Florida’s wrong way collisions in 2015, fifty-one percent of the at-fault drivers were not intoxicated at the time of the crash.

There are things you can do to minimize your chances of being involved in a wrong way car accident.  According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, interstate and freeway drivers should stay in the right lane, especially at night, to avoid the chances of being struck by a wrong way driver.  According to the Department, most fatal wrong way accidents take place in the left or center lane.

Of course, it is also very important to take steps to ensure you do not enter an expressway going the wrong way. As referenced above, many wrong way drivers were not intoxicated.   To prevent such mistakes it is important to: avoid driving while drowsy; avoid distractions, such a cellphones, while driving; and not driving after dark if your night vision is impaired.

In addition, Florida’s Department of Transportation is implementing new measures in an effort to reduce wrong way accidents.  FDOT is installing additional signage at expressway exit ramps warning drivers that they are proceeding in the wrong direction.  FDOT is also installing flashing lights at exit ramps and using radar to detect wrong way drivers headed up exit ramps. When the radar detects a wrong way driver, emergency alert signage warns others drivers to be on the look out for the wrong way vehicle.

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The greater Jacksonville area has had a rash of tragic motorcycle accidents causing fatalities during the last ten days.  Four of these accidents involved a vehicle that failed to yield to the motorcyclist when making a left turn.  In at least two of these motorcycle accidents, the person operating the motorcycle was not wearing a helmet.  Four of the accidents happened in Duval County, one in Flagler County and two in Clay County.

Left turn accidents are the second most common type of accident our lawyers encounter, with rear-end collisions being the most common.  Left turn accidents are especially tragic for motorcyclists who typically hit the turning car head-on. Further compounding the problem is that motorcycles, with their much smaller profile, are harder to see than larger vehicles.  With texting and the other driver distractions that are so common these days, the failure to appreciate that a motorcycle is approaching becomes all the more likely.

Most motorcyclists are trained to drive defensively and to be on the lookout for drivers that do not see them; however, drivers turning left across their path of travel often offer no opportunity to avoid impact.

Defensive driving tactics for motorcyclists include:

– wearing a helmet;

– having a working headlight on at all times;

– operating within the speed limit;

– not driving in the blind spots of other vehicles;

– not sharing a single lane with other motorcyclists;

– riding a safe distance behind the vehicle in front of you; and

– watching for drivers trying to turn left across your path of travel, especially when their light is yellow;

– leaving yourself an “out” in case something unexpected happens;

– never drive when drowsy, under the effects of medication, alcohol or illegal substances; and

– take a motorcycle driving course.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in 2013, motorcyclists were twenty-six times more likely to die in an accident than occupants of four wheeled vehicles.  Motorcyclists account for approximately fourteen percent of traffic deaths despite representing only a tiny fraction of the number of vehicles on the road.

Florida law requires that motorcycle operators under the age of twenty-one wear helmets.  Operators who are at least twenty-one years of age are required to carry at least $10,000.00 in insurance to cover them for injuries they might suffer.  This law is designed to ease the burden on the state and public to pay for the increased injuries that can result from the failure to wear a helmet.

Florida law also requires that drivers under the age of twenty-one must take a course in motorcycle operation.  Drivers twenty-one and over can take a skills test instead of taking the course.

 

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Jacksonville has an alarmingly high number of driving under the influence convictions.  Using 2011 as an example, Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles provides there were 33,625 driving under the influence convictions in the state. The Jacksonville area had the third highest number of DUI convictions – 2,222. Only the Tampa area and Miami-Dade had more convictions, with 3,256 and 2,274 respectively.

Factoring in the much larger populations in those cities, it appears Jacksonville has the highest per capita DUI convictions of all large cities in the state.   Whether this means we have the highest number of drunk drivers on our roads or whether Jacksonville’s police and state attorneys are simply doing a better job is impossible to know.

This problem is reflected in our news nearly every week. For example, recently, a 21-year-old Jacksonville man was charged with the death of his friend in a crash on Loretto Road in the Mandarin area of Jacksonville. Police say the man was exceeding the speed limit and traveling at 47 to 60 mph in a 30-mph zone on a curve. Wet weather conditions added to the danger.

The car left the roadway and struck a tree.  The 22-year-old passenger was ejected and killed and the driver broke an arm and suffered other injuries. Police reported there were containers of alcohol at the scene and said the driver showed signs of impairment and smelled of alcohol. At first, the man admitted he was the driver but later claimed he was not, investigators said.

The driver has been charged charged with vehicular homicide, DUI-manslaughter, and knowingly operating a vehicle with a suspended license. We can only imagine that the grief, remorse and guilt will dwarf this young man’s criminal consequences, no matter how severe they may be.

The driver’s blood alcohol content tested at .23, according to the arrest report. The legal limit to drive in Florida is .08.  Intoxication at the level of .23 is associated with a laundry list of deficits including: nausea; blackout; emotional swings; severe motor skill impairment; drastically reduced reaction times; stupor; and loss of consciousness.

A host of laws have been enacted in the state in an effort to reduce drunk driving.  Despite these measures, the problem continues.  Years ago, the legal limit was reduced from .10 to .08.  In addition, fines and sentences have increased dramatically.   Due to public pressure, state attorneys are much less likely to agree to a plea arrangement that does not include a conviction for DUI.

Florida law mandates that any driver convicted of a second DUI must have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle.  The interlock prevents the car from being started unless the driver successfully blows a breathalizer connected to the engine’s ignition system.  A judge may order an interlock installed on a first conviction depending on the circumstances.  Perhaps this law be changed to include all first convictions.

Florida also has a “zero tolerance” policy for drivers under 21 who drink alcohol and get behind the wheel. Any driver under 21 who is stopped by police and has a blood alcohol level of .02 or higher will automatically face the suspension of their drivers’ license for six months.

In addition to criminal consequences, drunk drivers face civil liability for wrongful death or injuries.  Unlike other debts, claims for injuries or death caused by drunk driving are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.

 

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