Alcohol today is much more affordable than it was in years past, and recent research suggests that may be one factor affecting the frequency of drunk driving accidents. According to a team of researchers from the University of Florida, alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Illinois dropped by 26 percent after the state raised its alcohol tax in 2009. The correlation was even more pronounced among young drivers, who saw a 37 percent decline in drunk driving deaths.

Even with those improvements, however, people in Illinois still report driving drunk more frequently than those in other areas of the country. In 2012, 2.2 percent of Illinois drivers surveyed said they had driven after drinking too much at least once in the last 30 days, according to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. This was slightly higher than the national average of 1.9 percent.

Illinois also ranked higher than average nationally when it came to drunk driving deaths as a percentage of all traffic fatalities. Alcohol was a factor in about 41 percent of fatal car accidents in Illinois in 2012, compared to just 31 percent nationally, according to federal crash data.

Drunk drivers may be liable to crash victims and their families

When someone has too much to drink and causes a car accident in Illinois, not only is that driver likely to face criminal charges, but he or she may also face civil liability for the damage that he or she has caused to other people, including any property damage, injuries or deaths. This type of liability exists independently of any criminal consequences that may or may not arise from a drunk driving crash. However, it does not occur automatically. It must be initiated by the injured parties themselves, or in certain situations, by members of their families.

The most common type of civil legal claim resulting from drunk driving accidents is a personal injury claim. This type of lawsuit helps an injured crash victim and his or her dependents recover for the financial harm they suffer as a result of a crash, such as medical costs, hospital bills, rehabilitation expenses and lost income, as well as for non-economic damages like pain and suffering.

Another type of lawsuit called a wrongful death claim can arise in situations where someone is killed by a drunk driver. This type of claim can be filed by the dependent family members of someone who has died in a drunk driving crash. The types of compensation available in a wrongful death claim are similar to those that can be recovered through a personal injury claim, but may also include funds for funeral expenses, loss of support and other damages that may accompany the death of a parent, spouse or child.

In certain situations, whether in a wrongful death or personal injury lawsuit, Illinois law allows drunk driving victims to collect another type of payment, known as punitive damages. Those payments go above and beyond compensating the victim and his or her family members for their losses and are intended to punish drunk drivers for their wrongdoing and send a strong message to deter similar conduct.

Protect your rights and explore your legal options

If a drunk driver has hurt you or someone close to you, be sure to talk things over with a lawyer to learn about your legal rights and the options you may have for pursuing compensation for your injuries and other losses. Contact the knowledgeable personal injury lawyers at Bonifield & Rosenstengel to arrange a free initial consultation.