Help and advice for victims of drink driving
Victims of drink driving have a number of places to go for help and advice. If you're a victim, this article explains your options and outlines the support that is available.
1. Legal Help and Advice
If you're a victim of drink driving and suffer an injury or property damage, or one of your loved ones is injured or passes away following the accident, you may be able to claim compensation. There are many things to consider before making a claim, however, so it's a good idea to seek the help and advice of a solicitor.
Your solicitor should explain that there are four main ways to claim compensation. Let's take a look at each one in turn.
(a) Claim damages from the drunk driver and his/her insurance company
If you're a victim of drink driving, you can claim compensation from the drunk driver (or his/her insurance company) for a number of things, including:
- personal injury;
- pain and suffering;
- loss or damage to property (e.g., your car);
- loss of earnings or business profits;
- medical expenses.
You should keep a record of all the expenses you incur and any money you receive (e.g., from your insurance company) following the accident. Do not throw away any receipts for things like hospital expenses or other documents that demonstrate reduced income, losses, or other damage. Also note down any future losses or harm you expect to suffer.
Even if the drunk driver is acquitted of all criminal charges, there is nothing to preclude you from filing a civil claim. Crucially, the burden of proof is lower in civil actions than criminal. In the latter, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must prove their case against the drunk driver 'beyond reasonable doubt'; whilst in a civil trial you need only prove your case on a 'balance of probabilities'.
(b) Criminal Compensation Order
You may not need to resort to civil action to receive compensation. If the drunk driver is convicted, a criminal court can order he or she pay you compensation for any injury, loss or damage that you suffered (and/or expect to suffer).
In order to receive compensation this way, however, you need to tell the police and CPS before the case reaches court. They will ask you to document your losses -- in much the same way as you would in a civil action (see above) -- and present this information to the court on your behalf.
Before the court determines whether or not compensation is appropriate, it will take a look at the drunk driver's financial position and ability to pay. If it decides the offender has sufficient means, it will order him/her to pay you compensation.
(c) Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) deals solely with compensation applications from the victims of violent crime. To claim CICA compensation, therefore, you will need to prove that the drunk driver deliberately used the vehicle as a weapon/to cause injury -- thus making you a victim of a 'crime of violence'.
Unless there are mitigating circumstances, you must file your application with CICA within two years of the crime. Note also that you can still claim compensation even if the offender has not been prosecuted, or even caught.
(d) Motor Insurers' Bureau
If you suffered injury, loss or damage to property as a result of a road traffic incident, you will normally be compensated through the other driver's insurance policy. However, where the offender is untraceable or uninsured, you may be able to seek compensation from the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB).
It is not particularly easy to present a claim to the MIB. Its rules are rather strict and you could be denied compensation for a relatively minor error in your application. And just like any car insurer, the MIB will investigate your claim and seek to minimise its financial exposure -- typically on the grounds that you were contributorially negligent. Therefore, it is always a good idea to consult a solicitor before you file an application.
2. Counselling and Victim Support
Victims of drink driving can access counselling and other help from Victim Support. You may also want to contact the road safety/crash victims support charities Brake and Road Peace. Their services are completely free and available to everyone.
3. Victim's Rights
By law, the police must provide regular updates (at least monthly) about your case. They must also tell you if someone is arrested, charged, bailed and sentenced for the crime, and provide clear information about whether you qualify for compensation. You also have an opportunity to make a 'victim personal statement', which allows you to tell the police, the prosecutor and the court how the crime has affected you. The police should ask you if you want to make one before the case proceeds to trial. A victim personal statement is different from a witness statement, which merely records your version of events leading up to the crime. But like a witness statement, it becomes part of the paperwork for the case, and could affect the punishment the drunk driver receives.
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