If you have been in a vehicle accident and the collision was caused by a drunk driver, then you do need to know that you have legal recourse. To begin with, driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal. If the driver has a blood alcohol level over .08, then they are breaking the law. In the event of a collision, likely there will be criminal charges against the drunk driver. However, these criminal proceedings won’t provide you with any compensation for your injuries. Instead, you will need to consider the option of a civil suit.
Civil Suits and Criminal Cases
To begin with, a drunk driver will likely be charged with several different criminal counts, such as driving under the influence, reckless driving, etc. The charges can worsen if anyone was injured or killed due to their behavior. However, the whole purpose of a criminal case is to ensure the driver will not do the same thing again. These cases are designed to protect the public in the future, not to provide you with compensation because you were hurt.
This is where a civil case comes into play. If you were injured by a drunk driver, then you can file a civil case to seek compensation. If you have a loved one who was killed, then you could have the right to file a wrongful death civil suit. The purpose of a civil suit is to help you recover expenses such as medical bills, lost wages, property damage, etc. Additionally, depending on the laws where you live, you may also be able to recover something called non-economic damages. These include damages for your pain and suffering as well as punitive damages, which are designed to essentially punish the drunk driver and discourage similar behavior in the future.
Civil Suits Vary by State
It is very important that you understand how civil suits can be affected by laws in each state. Not all states allow the same suits and some have strict laws on how things are handled. You will need to understand the laws in your home state before you follow through with a civil suit, and that means an experienced attorney.
However, learning more about state laws in general can help you better understand what you will be facing. There are essentially two general types of laws:
• No-Fault States – Some states have no-fault laws. Essentially, this protects drivers who cause accidents from being sued for extraordinary amounts of money. In these states, if you are injured by a drunk driver, then there may be limits on how much money you could sue for. The laws, depending on the state, will have an impact on whether you can sue or not. In some cases, suits can only be brought if the damage or injury is severe. And, even in those cases, the actual damages that can be sought may be quite limited.
• Pure Negligence States – In these states, the only thing you will have to do in a civil suit is prove fault. Once you have proven that someone was driving drunk and this is the reason for the accident and your injuries, then you can seek the damages to cover your expenses as well as for pain and suffering.
Understanding the laws where you live is vital in order to seek a civil suit. You may not have a case in all circumstances. However, in most, you will be able to seek some amount of damages through a civil suit.
Wrongful Death Cases
If you have a loved one who was killed due to an accident with a drunk driver, then a wrongful death civil case may be filed. These cases will follow the same rules, essentially, of personal injury cases and in most states, economic and non-economic damages will be available. Also depending on the state, there is a very good chance you could seek punitive damages. While there are usually set amounts for economic and non-economic damages, the punitive damages can be completely arbitrary as decided by a judge or jury.
The most important thing to remember with any type of personal injury suit is that it will be your responsibility to prove fault. Often, DUI cases seem cut and dried, but there is actually much more to it than this. Even if the law is punishing the person for drunk driving, that doesn’t necessarily mean your civil case will be easy. There are plenty of different little legal nuances that can have an impact on proving fault.
The legal term for fault is carelessness that comes from negligence that directly led to the injury or loss of property for someone else. State laws can differ on fault as well. There are two different types of laws:
• Contributory – With this law, if you contributed to your injury in some way, then you cannot hold someone else at fault.
• Comparative – This rule requires that actual fault is divided between two parties. For example, if you ran a red light and a drunk driver hit you, then you would share a percentage of the blame and could only sue for a certain amount.
There are also modifications to how this fault can work depending on the state. As you may be beginning to see, there are many subtle nuances that can seriously affect your case.
If you wish to seek damages in a civil case, then proving negligence, and therefore fault, is an absolute must. That’s why having an experienced attorney who regularly deals with personal injury and DUI cases is very important.
If you have been injured in a car wreck and the other driver was drinking, then you will need to consider pursuing a civil suit. This is the best path you can take in order to be compensated for your injuries. Personal injury, when it comes to these accidents, is handled separately from the actual criminal case, which would involve other types of punishments.