No matter how careful we are, how prepared we are, or how much training we have in the safe operation of a motorcycle and defensive driving, a drunk driver can come out of nowhere and change or even end a motorcyclist’s life. 

Next to a motorcycle v. eighteen-wheeler collision, it is the worst possible scenario. 

Because of the extreme danger posed by drunk drivers on the road and the extreme carelessness demonstrated by someone who would drive drunk knowing they could kill someone, motorcyclists who are hit by a drunk driver are entitled to punitive damages, and there is no cap on punitive damages against a drunk driver. 

Below, I’ll cover some of the basics regarding motorcycle crashes with drunk drivers in SC, including:

  • How to recover the maximum damages possible against a drunk driver,
  • Dram shop actions against the bar or establishment that served the drunk driver,
  • When you are entitled to punitive damages against a DUI driver, and
  • When there is no cap on punitive damages under SC law. 

DUI Accidents Involving Motorcycles

To recover damages after a motorcycle crash, you must prove liability by establishing negligence – for example, the other driver owed a duty (obey the traffic laws) to other motorists (you), they violated that duty (by driving drunk and violating traffic laws), and their negligence was the proximate cause of your damages. 

When a person decides to drive after drinking or using drugs, they are already negligent – now, they are an accident waiting to happen. 

When they hit a motorcyclist causing injuries or death, 1) they are liable to the motorcyclist (or the motorcyclist’s family if the collision was fatal), and 2) they are likely to be charged criminally with DUI, felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury, or felony DUI resulting in death. 

Your motorcycle accident lawyer in Charleston, SC can investigate the crash and the individuals involved, gather the evidence you will need to prove liability and damages (including evidence of the drunk driver’s intoxication), and help you to recover full and fair compensation – including punitive damages when appropriate – through settlement or trial. 

What is a Dram Shop Action?

You may not be limited to collecting damages from the drunk driver and their insurance policies.

If a bar, restaurant, or other establishment serves alcohol to 1) a minor or 2) a person who is already visibly intoxicated, that establishment is also liable for the injuries and damage caused by their customer when there is a drunk driving accident… 

If we can establish a bar’s liability for serving the drunk driver who caused your motorcycle crash, you may have a “dram shop action” against the bar as well as a negligence action against the drunk driver. 

When are Motorcycle Accident Victims Entitled to Punitive Damages?

If a drunk driver causes a motorcycle collision that results in injuries or death, the drunk driver (and possibly the bar that served them) is liable for the resulting damages, including:

  • Economic and non-economic damages,
  • Motorcycle repair or replacement and other property damage,
  • Medical expenses,
  • Lost wages,
  • Pain and suffering,
  • Mental anguish,
  • Disfigurement,
  • Loss of consortium, 
  • Wrongful death damages, and
  • Punitive damages. 

You are entitled to punitive damages in SC when you can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s conduct was “willful, wanton, or in reckless disregard” of your rights – this could mean intentional conduct, reckless conduct, or gross negligence in SC (SC Code § 15-33-135).

When a person chooses to drive while intoxicated, that’s “willful, wanton, and reckless disregard” of the rights of every other person on the road – motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. 

It is gross negligence, and, in most cases, a DUI accident victim is entitled to receive punitive damages if there is an adequate source of recovery (insurance policies, personal assets, business assets, third-party defendants, and dram shop actions against the establishment that served the drunk driver).  

No Cap on Punitive Damages for Drunk Drivers

SC has capped punitive damages at three times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, whichever is greater (SC Code § 15-32-530), but this doesn’t apply to drunk drivers… 

There is no cap on punitive damages in SC for a defendant who:

  • Intended to harm and did harm the plaintiff (intentional conduct), 
  • Is convicted of a felony offense related to the crash (felony DUI), or
  • Was under the influence of drugs or alcohol “to the degree that the defendant’s judgment is substantially impaired.” 

How do you prove that the other driver was under the influence when they caused the motorcycle crash? 

In many cases, law enforcement will see the impairment, administer field sobriety tests and the breathalyzer or a blood alcohol test, and charge the person with DUI, felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury, or felony DUI resulting in death depending on the circumstances. 

If for some reason the drunk driver is not charged and convicted, you may still be able to prove intoxication through:

  • Eyewitness testimony, 
  • Photographic or video evidence, 
  • Medical records if the person was transported to the ER, 
  • Expert testimony, 
  • Breath or blood alcohol tests, or
  • Other evidence collected by law enforcement at the scene.

Call an experienced Charleston, SC motorcycle accident attorney immediately after the crash, so that we can begin investigating and gathering the evidence you will need to prove your case.

Motorcycle Crash Lawyers in Greenville, Walhalla, Walterboro, and North Charleston, SC

The motorcycle accident lawyers at the Boles Law Firm can help you to investigate your crash, gather the evidence you will need in court, negotiate with the insurance companies, and recover the maximum compensation that you are entitled to for your injuries – including dram shop damages and punitive damages whenever possible.

Call us at 843-576-5775 to schedule an appointment for a free consultation at our North Charleston, Walterboro, Greenville, or Walhalla offices, or send us a message through our website.

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