Last Sunday in Arden, 25 year old Manuel Martinez drove his car through a row of mailboxes and then struck a 9 year old little boy. Martinez continued driving after hitting the child, but he and his passenger were arrested a short time later after eyewitnesses identified the pair at a local gas station.

Police officers determined that Martinez’ blood alcohol content was .21 at the time of the crash – that is almost 3 times the legal limit. As a result of his conduct, officers charged him with DWI, felony hit and run, reckless driving, and having an open container of alcohol in his car. Our search of the State’s criminal records does not show any prior criminal charges against Martinez.

Drunk driving is still a serious problem in North Carolina and in the US. On average, there are more than 300,000 people injured each year in the US in alcohol related crashes – that is an average of one person injured almost every 2 minutes (NHTSAAlcohol, 1999). Many of those crashes involve pedestrians.

Crashes involving drunk drivers frequently cause serious injuries or death because the drunk driver is often speeding at the time of the wreck. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that speeding alone was a contributing factor in almost 30% of all fatal crashes last year.” (NHTSA, Speeding, 2009).

After the incident, EMS transported the child to the hospital where emergency room physicians diagnosed him with a severely fractured pelvis. Such injuries are usually not life threatening, but can cause problems that can last a lifetime, such as chronic pain and limited range of movement. Hopefully, the child will make a full and complete recovery.

In our western North Carolina personal injury practice, we see far too many alcohol related crashes and injuries. Too often, the drunk driver has no car insurance or the minimum limits of $30,000. If a drunk driver has no insurance, or the minimum limits, and causes a crash that injures someone, then the injured person hopefully has uninsured motorists coverage (UM) and/or underinsured motorists coverage (UIM) on their own vehicle.

In North Carolina you should purchase as much UM & UIM coverage as you can possibly afford. We recommend that all of our clients have at least $100,000 in UM & UIM coverage or better yet carry a Million Dollar umbrella policy. One serious injury can easily result in more than $50,000 in medical bills. Without these coverages, you are relying on other drivers to have sufficient insurance coverage to compensate you for any injuries they may cause. Protect yourself and your passengers from irresponsible drivers like Martinez.

In the case of this little 9 year old boy, he would have the legal right to pursue a personal injury claim against Martinez and seek compensation for all of his medical bills, any permanent injuries, and for the pain and suffering associated with his injuries. Because Martinez was driving while drunk, the child would also be entitled to recover punitive damages to punish Martinez for his wrongful conduct and to deter him and others from committing similar acts in the future.