If a family member or loved one was involved in a fatal accident caused by a drink driver, the effects are devastating. Drink driving is a punishable offence in the UK and should anyone at the wheel of a car under the influence of alcohol cause death by dangerous driving, they rightly stand a good chance of being imprisoned if criminal charges are bought against them by the Police.
A drunk driver (or cyclist) could be held liable for the death of a person and as such a civil claim could be filed against them through their insurers, or compensation could be sought through the Motor Insurer’s Bureau. Bereaved families could never replace the loss of someone they love, but if a driver caused their death, seeking compensation can help in many ways especially if the person who died was the bread winner.
To find out more about how to claim compensation for death due to a drunk driver, and how a personal injury solicitor could assist you in such a difficult time, please read on.
- What is the Legal Definition of Causing Death by Dangerous Driving?
- What Are the Most Common Offences Which Result in Death by Dangerous Driving?
- What Are the Consequences of Using Mobile Phones When Driving?
- What Level of Compensation Would be Awarded in Death Due to Drunk Driver Claim?
- Who Would Qualify as a Dependent of a Deceased Person?
- Would It Be Possible to Claim if a Driver is Not Insured?
- What is a Coroner’s Court?
- What is the Most Serious Offence Compensation in Death by Drunk Diver Claim?
- What Should I Do if Affected by the Death of a Family Member due to a Drunk Driver?
- Links to Useful Websites
Courts and lawyers determine if a person who takes to the wheel of car when under the influence of alcohol and as a result causes death by dangerous driving could be convicted of a criminal offence by referring to Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which states the following:
- Anyone causing the death of someone else when driving a vehicle (mechanically propelled) in a dangerous manner on the road or another public highway/place, would be guilty of committing an offence
- Some useful information can be found on the Crown Prosecution Service’s website relating to claiming compensation for causing death by dangerous driving which states the following:
- When a suspect’s driving causes or plays a part in the death of someone else, and the manner in which a vehicle was being driven was ‘dangerous’ where dangerous is deemed to have fallen below a standard which is expected of a careful and competent driver and where a careful and competent driver would find it obvious that driving in that way would be deemed as ‘dangerous’
- Should a drunk driver be convicted of dangerous driving, the offence carries a sentence of fourteen years (Criminal Justice Act 2003) and/or a fine (unlimited). A drunk driver may be convicted by a Judge if they face the following criminal charges:
- The driver must have been seen to play a part in causing a fatal accident
- Any degree of contribution is deemed beyond negligible
A question that many people ask is ‘what is the difference between death by dangerous driving and careless driving?’
Where careless driving is concerned, this describes a standard of driving that falls below what is acceptable. Death by dangerous driving, however, describes a standard of driving that falls far below what is considered to be acceptable. As such, dangerous driving carries far weightier penalties.
Some examples of careless driving would include the following:
- When driving far too close to another car/vehicle
- When running a red light by error
- When overtaking another car/vehicle on the wrong side (under-taking)
- When turning into the path of another car/vehicle
- When distracted by a mobile phone, radio, cigarettes, food, drink
- Some examples of dangerous driving would include the following:
- Driving too aggressively, driving too fast/racing
- Not taking any notice of traffic lights
- Overtaking other vehicles dangerously
- Driving a car/vehicle when it is known to be defective
- When dangerously distracted by something which could be a mobile phone or map
- When it comes to causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence or either drink, drugs or both, some examples include the following:
- Driving with excessive alcohol in the blood
- Driving with excessive prescription medication in the blood
- Driving under the influence of an illegal drug
- Driving when having consumed too much alcohol and drugs
- More information can be found on the Crown Prosecution Service Fact Sheet here.
If a person is drunk, they are far more likely to be distracted by something like a mobile phone and would be tempted to use one when at the wheel of a car. Should the driver cause a fatal accident when drunk, one of the first actions the police would take is to check their mobile phones.
Some examples of drivers causing fatal accidents due to being distracted by a mobile phone includes the following:
- When quickly looking at a text they received
- When texting
- When making a call
- When answering a call
- When checking emails
- When sending emails
- When playing music
- However, the list of causes of fatal accidents when using a smart phone when driving are endless. If you lost a loved one or family member due to a drunk driver who was using a phone when behind the wheel of a car, you should contact a solicitor who would offer you essential legal advice on how to pursue a claim and they would do so in an understanding and sympathetic manner.
When a driver is charged by the Police and/or convicted of a crime, namely causing death by dangerous driving, it opens the door for a bereaved family to make a fatal car accident claim. If it is a Civil Claim, the Police or Crown Prosecution Service would not be involved and an experienced solicitor would represent you as the deceased next of kin. The claim would be made either against the drunk driver, or their insurance provider.
The action against a drunk driver who caused a fatal accident in which you lost a loved one could be heard in any of the following:
- A County Court
- Civil Division of a High Court
- Civil Division of a Court of Appeal
- Supreme Court – this is the Highest Appeal Court for England and Wales
- When a solicitor represents you in this type of case, the claim for compensation would be made under the following law that covers England and Wales:
- The Fatal Accidents Act 1976
- The claim for dependency would fall under the Act for the following:
- A bereavement award
- Any loss of income incurred
- Any loss of services
- It is worth noting that a bereavement award does not put a ‘value’ on a deceased person’s life should they have died in a fatal road traffic accident caused by a drunk driver and that’s not only limited to close family members. Should you be a dependent, you could typically claim compensation for the financial support you relied on from the deceased person. If you are for a surviving partner who was unwell or you look after children of the deceased (child-minding), you may also be able to claim this back in your claim.
Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, certain dependants of a deceased would be entitled to claim bereavement compensation. Some of these are as follows:
- A wife or husband, or former wife or husband of a deceased person
- A civil partner, or former civil partner of a deceased person
- Or, any person who:
- Was living in the same house with the deceased person ‘immediately’ before the date of the fatality, and
- Was living in the same house with the deceased person for a minimum of two years prior to that date, and
- Was living as the husband, wife, or civil partner of the deceased person during the entire period
- Any parent or other descendant of the deceased person
- Any person the deceased person treated as their parent
- Any child or other descendant of the deceased person
- Any person other than a child of the deceased person who was treated as a child of the deceased family through a marriage they were party to at any time
- Under the Act others could seek compensation, but if you are unsure as to whether you could be entitled to file a bereavement claim because a loved one or family member lost their life in a fatal accident caused by a drunk driver, a solicitor would offer essential legal advice whether you could or not before recommending how best to proceed.
All too often an accident is caused by a younger driver who has taken a car without having first asked for the owner’s permission. As such, they would not be insured to drive. However, if the car has been stolen, there would be no insurance either.
When it comes to UK law that covers motor insurance, things can be challenging. As such, it is best to seek legal advice from a solicitor if you need help filing a bereavement claim if a family member was fatally injured in a road traffic accident caused by an uninsured drunk driver.
With this said, the following could apply:
If a car or vehicle has the necessary insurance but a driver took it without permission, or stole and proceeded to drive under the influence, under the rules of the Motor Insurance Bureau – MIB – the insurance provider that issued the policy for the car would be responsible and as such, they would pay out compensation to a bereaved family that is due
Should a car/vehicle or driver not be traced, a claim for causing death by dangerous driving under the uninsured loss agreement, can still be made through the MIB by a bereaved family.
A Coroner’s Court would investigate possible causes of death following criminal activity or crime which includes a loved one or family member being killed due to the actions of a drunk driver. The Judge in this type of court is known as a ‘Coroner’ and they would hold an inquest into the death of a deceased person. The Coroner has the power to call witnesses as well as the Police when necessary to give evidence.
It is worth noting that this inquest purpose is ‘fact finding’ and would not get involved in who could be to ‘blame’. However, the findings often come to the same conclusion as that of a court finding.
The most serious offence involving drink driving is when the actions of a person who is under the influence are deliberate. The Crown Prosecution Service refers to this as being a ‘flagrant disregard’ for any rules of the road which includes the following:
- When a driver persistently and deliberately drives extremely badly for a prolonged period of time
- When a driver consumes a lot of alcohol or drugs resulting in gross impairment
- When there is substantial danger to life
- Driving too fast, or racing another driver
- Distracted by something – this includes a radio or mobile phone
- When driving above the speed limit or not taking notice of prevailing weather conditions at speed
- Driving when tired due to lack of sleep
- Driving a defective car/vehicle
- Not having the correct regard to other vulnerable road users
If you lost a loved one or a family member in a fatal road accident that was caused by a drunk driver, and you would like some advice about how to go about claiming bereavement compensation, you should contact a solicitor who has the necessary legal experience to firstly, assess your case in a sympathetic manner at a pace that suits you and secondly, how to best pursue your claim whether through a civil action or through the Motor Insurance Bureau.
Once a solicitor has established there is a strong case, they would offer to represent you on a No Win No Fee basis. In short, you would not have to pay the solicitor a retainer for them to commence their investigations into your bereavement claim. This is also known as an upfront fee. There would be no ongoing fees to find as your case progresses either, no matter how long the process is. The only time you would have to pay for the services a No Win No Fee solicitor provides, is when you are awarded the bereavement compensation you sought and the amount, which is a percentage, is taken out of the amount you are awarded by the solicitor who then pays the remainder to you.
If you lost a loved one in a fatal car accident and would like support and advice from people who understand what you are going through, the following link takes you to the DrinkAware website:
To find out more on what is being done to make the roads in the UK a safer place, Brake the Road, a charity provides valuable advice and support:
The following link takes you to the Victim Support website where you can find a lot of help, support and advice from people who know and understand how losing a loved one in a fatal road traffic accident caused by a drunk driver can negatively impact your life: