Drunk young man drives a car with a bottle of beer.

My Loved One Was Killed by a Drunk Driver. What Happens Now?

Wilson Law Firm PLLC June 17, 2022

Nothing can prepare you for the devastation of suddenly losing someone you love. Nothing can fill the hole that’s left behind—but perhaps you can gain some comfort knowing your actions may prevent another needless death from occurring. If your loved one was killed by a drunk driver, and now you’re unsure of what to do next, reach out to me at the Wilson Law Firm PLLC in Shawnee, Oklahoma. I won’t pretend to know what you’re going through, but I can give you concrete steps to take that can at least begin the healing process. As a personal injury attorney, I’m able to serve those in the Shawnee area and anywhere else in Oklahoma, including Chandler, Norman, Okemah, and Ada.

Criminal Charges

If a driver is arrested for drunk driving and their negligent actions seriously injured or took the life of someone else, they'll face additional charges in addition to a DUI. This could be negligent homicide, first or second-degree manslaughter, or second-degree murder. The charges will depend on the details of the incident, the level of intoxication, whether the driver had prior convictions, and other details. If the incident is charged as a misdemeanor, the driver could see up to a year in prison and fines, but if it’s tried as a felony, they could face 10 years to life in prison in addition to fines.  

Why File a Wrongful Death Claim?

If someone’s killed as the result of an accident, the family has an option to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This can sometimes feel like a futile endeavor since no action will ever bring your loved one back. However, filing claims like this can make a real difference in holding the guilty party accountable and reducing the likelihood this happens to someone else. Additionally, the resulting damages could provide much-needed financial relief to your family if you’re struggling to keep up with medical bills, funeral costs, or lost income.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, only the “personal representative” of the deceased can file a lawsuit on their behalf. If they left a will and named someone as the executor, that person can file a claim in court. However, if there is no will, a judge can appoint someone as the representative which is usually a surviving spouse, family member, or close friend. In most cases, you have two years from the date of death to file a claim.

Liability for Drunk Driving

When you file a suit in a drunk driving case, the court determines who’s liable for the accident, and fault can be shared among multiple parties. The most obvious offender is the driver themselves since they were the ones who decided to get behind the wheel, but others may have a share of the liability. For example, if the driver was a minor, their parents could be held responsible for their child’s actions. Or, if the driver had just left an establishment that served alcohol and it was determined they were overserved, that business could be held partially to blame for the accident. However, this is more common with an established business like a bar or restaurant. It’s much less likely that a non-licensed alcohol vendor (a “social host”) is held accountable. This social host liability tends to protect individuals who may have been hosting a private party at their home and one of their guests became overly intoxicated. Lastly, in some cases, an employer may carry some of the fault if the driver was on the clock performing their job duties before they got in the car. 

Possible Damages

Each wrongful death claim will be unique, but in general, you can seek any damages that are directly related to the accident and subsequent death. This could include burial expenses, medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, lost future earnings, and loss of consortium. In cases of extreme negligence, a judge might also award punitive damages. 

How Wilson Law Firm PLLC Can Help

If you’re in the Shawnee, Oklahoma area and would like to speak to an experienced and compassionate personal injury attorney, contact my office. At the Wilson Law Firm PLLC, you’ll gain a partner in your time of grief who will honor the memory of your loved one and fight to do what’s right on their behalf.