The law is complex. A single incident can have you dealing with different legal professionals and entities.
If you have been injured by a drunk driver, there are two types of cases that can arise from the situation. Depending on the injuries and other damages caused by a DUI accident, a victim can file either a civil or criminal case, or both.
These are separate lawsuits that will require different legal representation, trial dates, procedural laws, and even presiding judges.
Criminal DUI Cases
When law authorities respond to a DUI accident scene, they will arrest the drunk driver under criminal charges of driving under the influence.
Criminal cases deal with careless conduct that violates a specific code of law. As such, the government prosecutes the driver for breaking a law. The FMCSA considers it a crime when an impaired driver has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of more than 0.08%. This number is even lower for drivers under the age of 21 years and in situations involving heavy cars.
A driver’s BAC is a critical component in criminal DUI cases. The officer uses a chemical test to determine the levels. While this test is not explicitly compulsory, failure to comply will automatically suspend a driver’s license under DMV’s implied consent during licensure.
Before giving a verdict, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was intoxicated while causing the accident.
One of the main differences between criminal and civil DUI cases is their repercussions. The varied outcomes of a criminal case will depend on BAC levels, property damages, personal injury, and the presence of additional violations such as speeding.
Drunk driving accidents may attract hefty fines for misdemeanors, jail, or imprisonment. Having DWI cases dismissed when they resulted in an accident is an uphill battle that will require an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Civil DUI Cases
If you were injured by a drunk driver, seeing them arrested might bring a sense of justice. However, this does little to compensate for all the additional losses caused by the crash. This is where civil DUI cases come in.
Civil lawsuits are charges brought up by a private person to another, accusing them of negligence that resulted in injuries. The victim or plaintiff has to prove that the drunk driver had a duty of care towards them, which they breached. In this case, the duty of care is to drive cautiously and sober, while minding other road users’ safety.
If the criminal case finds a driver guilty of DUI, a plaintiff can use this as additional evidence to prove a breach.
The Role of Insurance Companies in DUI Civil Lawsuits
Unlike a criminal lawsuit, a civil case involves additional parties like insurance companies. State laws require that all vehicles have insurance coverage or drivers to demonstrate some form of financial responsibility should an accident occur.
If you have been injured by a drunk driver, your personal injury claim will be handled by the motorist’s insurance company. For legal representation, a plaintiff should hire a personal injury lawyer to deal with ruthless insurance companies whose sole purpose is to pay out the least amount in compensation.
Normally, you will be seeking reimbursement for economic damages like medical bills, lost wages, inability to earn a living, and therapy fees. Other non-economic damages will include pain and emotional distress caused by the accident.
In rare cases, the judge can also assign punitive damages which are meant to punish the defendant and deter other people from committing the same offense.