Can I make a claim against a drunk or impaired driver?

The short answer is yes, you can make a claim for your injuries against a drunk or impaired driver. However, the real question is whether or not you can recover, and if so, from whom.

In Oregon, the insurance statute regulating auto insurance policies allows insurance companies to exclude "intentional" behavior.  This is behavior that has intends to harm, like someone assaulting another person. This only makes sense, because it would be bad public policy to allow somebody to go out and essentially insure their own criminal behavior. However, this issue can get tricky in cases involving the drunk or impaired driver.

We have handled cases involving drunk drivers who have killed motorists, and drunk drivers who have severely injured others. Often, these cases involve criminal charges. Criminal charges involve proving a certain "state of mind," which can affect the injury claim against the responsible driver.  In other words, some crimes require that the prosecutor prove the defendant drunk driver intended to cause harm. Other types of crimes require that the prosecutor prove that the defendant drunk driver "recklessly" disregarded the safety of others in causing the injury. In the first example, a liability insurance company may decline to cover the claim, because the behavior was "intentional." In the second example, however, the insurance company may be required to accept coverage, because the behavior, although socially unacceptable, was not purely intentional, but instead, reckless.  There is a difference.

Another issue in cases involving the drunk or impaired drivers is the possibility of another responsible party. In Oregon, statutes prohibit providers of alcohol from serving "visibly intoxicated" patrons or individuals. An injured motorist in Oregon may have a claim against the provider of alcohol, but the statute allowing that claim sets higher hurdles for proving the claim.

If you have questions about making a claim against an impaired or drunk driver, call us at 503-325-8600. We have represented more than a few clients on claims against impaired drivers and providers of alcohol.