Experiencing a lapse in judgment and getting behind the wheel after you've been drinking opens the door to every driver's nightmare: a DUI. If you're involved in an accident as well, you've got to wonder exactly what this is going to cost you. The answer depends to some extent on where you live and the exact coverage that your auto insurance policy provides.
Liability coverage is just what it sounds like: it pays for damage suffered by another party because you're liable for some wrongdoing due to negligence or error. Liability coverage is mandatory in all states. Therefore, if you have an accident while driving under the influence, your insurance company will pay for the other driver's personal injury claim or property damage to his vehicle.
The outlook isn't as optimistic where your own injuries and damage to your vehicle are concerned. Even if you live in a no-fault insurance state – and these are in the minority – your insurance company probably won't foot the bill if you were intoxicated at the time of the accident. For example, New York is a no-fault state and its insurers will pay for injuries you suffer in an accident, even if you caused it. It won't pay if you were drinking at the time, however. In some states, damage to your car might be covered if you purchased comprehensive coverage. This covers damage to your automobile, whereas liability coverage only pays for the other driver's car.
Most states are at-fault insurance jurisdictions. This means your insurer will investigate your share of responsibility for the accident, and it will pay your claims accordingly. For example, if you and another driver both run a stop sign at a four-way intersection, and if you collide, you're probably each 50 percent responsible. An at-fault insurer might therefore pay for only 50 percent of your damages. You maintain the right to sue the other driver's insurance company in these states, however, to try to recover the portion of your claim that your own insurance company won't pay. You must usually waive this right in no-fault states unless your injuries are extreme. If you live in an at-fault insurance jurisdiction, if you cause an accident, and if your blood alcohol concentration is above the legal limit – .08 percent in most states – it's a safe guess that blame will be assigned to you, particularly if the other driver was sober. You could be held entirely responsible for the incident.
You might not be the only party liable for injuries or damage as the result of an accident you caused while drinking. Many states have a version of "dram shop" laws on their books, which hold that anyone who served you alcohol after you were already visibly intoxicated has some liability as well for any accident that results.
Other Insurance Factors
Even if you don't cause serious damage, your insurance premiums will probably go up considerably if the police are involved and they establish that your blood alcohol level was over the legal limit. If your insurance had to pay a significant liability claim, it might cancel your policy entirely.
- Lozner & Mastropietro: New York State No-Fault Law
- Ankin Law Office: Frequently Asked Questions About Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Allen Financial Insurance Group: No Fault Insurance
- USAcoverage.com: Will Insurance Pay if You Were in an Accident Drinking and Driving?
- USAToday: Horrific N.C. Crash Puts Spotlight on Dram Shop Laws
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: DUI/DWI Laws
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She specializes in personal finance and w, bankruptcy, and she writes as the tax expert for The Balance.