Drunk Driving Collisions are Still Too Common in Bellingham

On average, over one-half of the people in Bellingham and Whatcom County will be involved in a drunk-driving crash in their lifetimes. We hear the statistics all the time. 

But it’s not until you or someone you care about is in an accident with a drunk driver that the issue really hits home. The devastation of the damage from the accident is compounded by the knowledge that the at-fault driver recklessly and carelessly endangered the lives of others. Victims feel angry, traumatized, and confused about where to turn when a drunk driver wreaks havoc on their lives.

Bellingham personal injury attorney Bill Coats has helped victims of drunk drivers for 20 years. Contact him to get your questions answered. Some of the drunk-driving cases he’s managed include:

  • $825,000 for a passenger thrown from the vehicle in a nearly-fatal collision with farm equipment
  • $745,000 for a driver injured in two separate accidents, a year apart, one of which occurred because of a drunk driver
  • $550,000 to a long-haul trucker whose arm was broken when an over-inflated semi-truck's tire flew through his window


Six things victims of drunk drivers need to know

A collision with a drunk driver is usually more dangerous because drunk drivers often tailgate, speed and cross the center line, resulting in more serious or fatal injuries. Survivors are left dealing with serious injuries, lengthy medical treatment, wage loss and expensive hospital bills. Because those responsible for a drunk-driving collision can include a bar or tavern, probation officer or work party host dealing with drunk-driving insurance claims and court cases can be complex and confusing.

Here is what you need to know about dealing with a drunk-driving accident:

1. Irresponsible drunk drivers often carry little or no insurance coverage, so it is important to find other sources to pay for the damages and bills that result.

2. There can be many at-fault parties – including the drunk driver, the bar or tavern that over-served the drunk driver, a host at a party who provided alcohol to a minor, a mini-mart that sold alcohol to a minor, and the probation officer who was responsible for monitoring a repeat offender. Complex rules govern the duty of each of these parties, so talking to an attorney who handles these claims is critical.

3. Washington State law has “joint and several” liability, which means that the responsible parties are each obligated to pay the entire loss even if they were only partially at fault. However, settling with any one party (for example the drunk driver) will destroy “joint and several” liability and cut off any remaining recovery. Do not settle with an insurance company without consulting an experienced Bellingham personal injury attorney.

4. The bar where the drunk driver drank may be responsible because the bar tender served someone who was “apparently intoxicated” or the bar did not take reasonable steps to make sure that no minors were served. It’s critical to investigate the alcohol provider right away to nail down the facts necessary to make a claim against a bar.

5. A private party host (sometimes called a social host) can be responsible for the harms caused by a drunk driver when the drunk driver is a minor. Complicated rules govern this law, as responsibility is an exception to the general rule that the social host is not responsible for harms caused by someone who is drinking as a guest of a social host.

6. Where a repeat offender is on probation or parole and the probation officer does not appropriately enforce the probation, the probation department may be legally responsible for the conduct of the repeat offender. Bill Coats was part of the legal team that recently recovered a $5.5 million verdict against a probation department for failure to enforce a court-ordered interlock device requirement.

If your injuries are significant, if the accident results in death, or if you just have questions about what you should do next, consider contacting an experienced personal injury attorney. Drunk-driving insurance claims and court cases are challenging to manage without a lawyer on your side who can obtain the highest possible settlement to recover financially. In the case of a wrongful death, an experienced attorney is needed to oversee the many legal processes that must happen.


We didn’t see it coming!

Every car accident is scary and stressful, but an accident with a drunk driver can be worse, because of the erratic driving behavior, including running red lights, weaving in the lane of traffic, swerving into oncoming traffic, wrong-way driving, speeding and tailgating, and commonly, falling asleep at the wheel.

Although every case is different, they often have some things in common:

  • 50% to 75% of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license.
  • Repeat drunk drivers often carry little or no insurance coverage.
  • A repeat drunk driver is sometimes under the supervision of a parole officer who should have been monitoring that driver’s behavior, and is potentially liable for damages as well.
  • A drunk driver often drank at a bar or tavern, and sometimes that establishment is liable for damages too.
  • Drunk drivers often try to run from the scene to avoid being arrested, which can complicate the processing of the case.

In the many drunk-driving cases Bellingham personal injury lawyer Bill Coats has handled, he’s learned how to tackle these issues quickly and completely, to resolve problems up front and ensure that his clients get a full settlement.

Resources for Victims of Drunken or Impaired Driving Accidents 

Requesting a Collision Report FAQS. The Washington State Patrol website answers all relevant questions for those who have experienced a vehicular accident and need to apply for a copy of the collision report.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving(MADD). The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking.

National Association of State Alchohol and Drug Abuse Director’s basic purpose is to foster and support the development of effective alcohol and other drug abuse prevention and treatment programs throughout every State.

Students Against Destructive Decisions is a peer-to-peer education, prevention, and activism organization dedicated to preventing destructive decisions, particularly underage drinking, other drug use, risky and impaired driving…

Washington Impaired Driving Strategic Plan. This plan sets statewide traffic safety priorities based on the most frequently cited contributing factors including impaired Drivers that contributed to half of all traffic fatalities.

At Bill Coats Law, we continue to be dismayed at the high number of drunk-driving accidents happening across Bellingham and Whatcom County today. While the numbers continue to slowly drop, for anyone involved in a crash with a drunk driver, this is of little comfort.

Bill’s experience representing victims of drunk drivers has taught him to explore the facts of each case thoroughly, to identify anyone at fault and secure a full settlement for his clients. Sometimes there is insurance money from:

  • The bar or tavern the drunk driver frequented before the accident;
  • The parole officer who should have been monitoring a convicted drunk driver;
  • The person or store that sold alcohol to a minor.

In cases where a full settlement is not offered, as your personal injury lawyer, Bill will take the case to court to obtain a reasonable verdict.

If you have been injured, or if someone has died in a car accident with a drunk driver, Bill can answer your questions and get you the help you need. Contact him by calling (360) 392-2833 or by completing this simple contact form.

If you have been in a different type of collision and want specific information about it, please click on the corresponding link below:

Bike accident

Pedestrian accident

Wrongful Death

Car Accident

Distracted Driving

Semi Tractor Trailer and Truck Accidents

Motorcycle Accident

Personal Injury


Can ignition interlock devices keep drunk drivers off the roads?

Bellingham and Whatcom County are no different than so many other US cities – we have our share of drunk drivers. Some are infamous, and receive steep sentences for the damage they cause. It’s an astounding fact, but the average drunk driver is arrested after driving drunk 80 times.

If a drunk driver is caught, does the time, pays the fines, does it mean that the lesson is learned, and he or she will no longer drink and drive? Unfortunately, the data says no.

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What to do after a car accident

It’s not too hard to imagine. You’re driving along on another beautiful sunny Bellingham day, and bam! Someone runs into you, or – we know it can happen – you run into someone else. Immediately the adrenaline and emotions run high, and it can be hard to know what to do next.

So what do you do if you are in an accident? Whether you are driving close to home in Bellingham, Whatcom County or beyond, these are the steps to follow.

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Can DUIs be a thing of the past?

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Travis was driving to work in his employer’s truck when a driver with marijuana in his system ran a stop sign and crashed into Travis. He suffered a fractured arm that required surgery to fix. The at-fault driver had no insurance, but Bellingham attorney Bill Coats was able to make a claim with the employer’s insurance company. After filing a lawsuit, the insurance company agreed to pay $180,000 to compensate Travis for his injury.

Steven is in the front seat of his teenage friend’s VW Jetta as it drives down a two-lane Whatcom County road, north of Bellingham.  It’s a foggy evening and up ahead a raspberry picker is traveling very slowly in the same direction, partially on the road and partially on the shoulder.  The Jetta driver doesn’t see the farm vehicle in time and crashes into it.  The collision tears the roof off of the Jetta and ejects Steven from the car.