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In North Carolina, victims of accidents caused by drunk drivers may be entitled to compensation for damages. According to North Carolina law, individuals injured by the reckless actions of a drunk driver may seek punitive damages in addition to general and specific damages. Punitive damages serve to punish the defendant’s egregious behavior and deter others from driving under the influence.

Drunk drivers were involved in 31% of fatal accidents in the US in 2021 and 28% of fatal crashes in North Carolina. 

What happens if a drunk driver hits you? You can usually recover compensation from the driver and possibly punitive damages.

Sometimes, you can also recover from those who provided the person with alcohol.

At Mehta & McConnell, PLLC, we have decades of experience representing people injured in vehicle accidents in North Carolina.

We can help you navigate the process to recover compensation for the harm you suffered and hold the driver accountable for their conduct. Reach out today to learn more about your options.

What To Do After a Crash

Accidents involving drunk drivers are often more severe than other car accidents. If you need emergency medical care, seek treatment right away. If you can stay on the scene, there are a few steps to take.

At the Scene

When you’re involved in a vehicle accident, you should first get yourself and your vehicle out of harm’s way if possible.

The other driver should follow you to discuss what to do. But drunk drivers may behave erratically or even flee the scene.

If the other driver doesn’t stop, quickly write down everything you can about the vehicle, especially the license plate number and make and model.

Next, call the police. While waiting for the police to arrive, exchange insurance information with the other driver.

If there are witnesses on the scene, ask them for their contact information and if they’ll stay to speak with the police.

Take photographs of any property damage and any injuries you’ve suffered. If your vehicle isn’t in a condition to drive, you may also need to call a tow truck.

Wait until the police arrive and speak to them about what occurred. Try to stay focused on the facts, and don’t accept blame.

They may talk to other witnesses and will use the information they get to compile an accident report

If the drunk driver fled, give the police the information you remember about the other car. If the other person is still there, the officer will likely test their blood alcohol content and have them perform sobriety tests.

Unless they need urgent medical attention, the officer will probably arrest the drunk driver and take them to the police station.

After You Leave the Scene

Seek medical attention for any injuries, even ones that appear minor. Contemporaneous medical documentation can be invaluable when trying to prove your injuries.

Consider contacting a car accident lawyer right away. Having your attorney speak to the other driver’s insurance company is ideal.

If you talk to the insurance company, be careful what you say. Avoid accepting blame for any part of the accident. 

Legal Claim Against the Driver

Causing a car accident when legally impaired by alcohol qualifies as gross negligence. Proving the other driver was drunk can entitle you to collect increased damages.

It also exempts you from North Carolina’s contributory negligence rule, which can prevent recovery if you contribute to your own injury.

Statute of Limitations

When you sue a drunk driver, you must file the case within three years of the accident date. Although there are some limited exceptions, it’s best to file within that deadline if at all possible.


If you got hit by a drunk driver, what are you entitled to? Under North Carolina law, you can recover three types of damages in a drunk driving injury case:

  • Economic damages,
  • Noneconomic damages, and
  • Punitive damages.

Economic and noneconomic damages are compensatory, designed to compensate you for the harm the other party caused. Punitive damages are designed to punish blameworthy conduct.


If your case goes to trial, the jury awards damages. But most cases settle before trial. Many people want to know how much they’ll get in a settlement before they sue.

There’s no real way to approximate the average settlement when you’re hit by a drunk driver because the amount you could receive is highly dependent on the unique circumstances in your case.

However, an attorney can evaluate your individual case and give you an idea of what to expect. Knowing what you could get if you go to trial is vital to negotiating a good settlement. 

Compensatory damages

Economic damages include losses you can prove reliably, like medical bills, lost wages, and vehicle damage.

Noneconomic damages are harder to measure. They include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, and loss of consortium.

Punitive damages

North Carolina explicitly authorizes punitive damages in drunk driving cases.

The state has even exempted drunk driving cases from the cap that generally limits punitive damages in personal injury cases to three times compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater. 

Legal Claim Against Others

The driver isn’t the only person you might be able to sue.

If the driver was under 21, North Carolina law authorizes legal action against the person or business that supplied alcohol to the driver. 

In addition, if the driver was supplied alcohol at a party or similar gathering, the person who hosted the gathering or provided the alcohol may be liable.

Specifically, the person who provided the alcohol may be liable if they knew or should have known the other person was intoxicated and likely to drive.

Proving that the actions of someone who supplied alcohol were severe enough to justify punitive damages may be difficult. However, such parties may be liable for compensatory damages.

Contact an Attorney

If you were hit by a drunk driver, you have options to hold the driver accountable and recover compensation.

The attorneys at Mehta & McConnell, PLLC, have a long history of helping our clients get back on their feet following drunk driving accidents. Contact us today.

Author Photo

Viral Mehta

Viral Mehta is the managing attorney of Mehta & McConnell Injury Lawyers, a Charlotte, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation law firm. He enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, sports, and reading.

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