Like all states, Wisconsin has a law prohibiting drinking and driving to help keep the public safe. There are also laws that make it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to enjoy an alcoholic beverage or for adults to provide alcohol to minors. Unfortunately, neither of these laws actually prevent teenagers from drinking or from getting behind the wheel when leaving a party.
People who get into collisions caused by drunk underage drivers can suffer catastrophic injuries, to say nothing of the property damage that such a crash can cause. Unfortunately, teenagers generally have very few assets with which to compensate those they may hurt in a crash.
You will no doubt find yourself wondering what legal options you have for compensation after a crash caused by an intoxicated teenage driver. The answer will vary depending on a variety of factors, including how the teen in question obtained the alcohol.
Wisconsin law makes the person who served alcohol responsible
Many states have special laws called dram shop laws that expand drunk driving liability to businesses that serve or sell alcohol. Bars, restaurants and potentially even retail establishments could find themselves facing civil action if they provide alcohol to someone visibly impaired who goes on to cause a crash. Wisconsin law protects businesses from that kind of liability.
However, there is one exception. Anyone who furnishes alcohol to a minor can incur substantial legal and financial risk in doing so. If that minor causes a crash, the person who provided the minor with alcohol incurs legal risk for the cost associated with the accident.
Whether a teenager buys alcohol from a store, orders it at a restaurant or consumes it at a party hosted by a friend's parent, the adults involved in provisioning the teenagers with alcohol are likely legally responsible for the financial consequences of any crash that results.
Why outside liability matters in these cases
Car accidents can leave people with a lifetime of decreased earning potential and medical debt to worry about. Even if you have decent insurance, it's quite possible that the underage driver will have minimal coverage, as teenage insurance policies tend to be higher costs to begin with. Your medical expenses and lost wages could quickly surpass whatever insurance coverage is available after the crash.
Determining if there is an adult who has established financial resources to hold accountable for the crash could help you close the gap between what insurance covers and what the crash actually costs your family. If you find yourself struggling to cover costs after a collision caused by impaired underage driver, it may be time to sit down with a Wisconsin personal injury attorney and talk about your options.