There is little tolerance for drunk drivers in today’s society. Drunk drivers can face serious criminal charges, with penalties including heavy fines and jail time. But what if a drunk drivers injures or kills someone, can a civil case come from DUI charges?
The simple answer is yes, but as we all know, nothing is simple. Criminal proceedings are designed to protect the public from future harm by acting as a deterrent to drunk driving, as well as to punish the drunk driver for acting in a reckless manner. Criminal courts also have the ability to order restitution to injured parties as part of a criminal sentence. If a someone is injured or their property destroyed by a drunk driver, a criminal court can order the driver to pay to the victim restitution equal to the value of the property damaged or the medical bills incurred by the injured party.
In many states, restitution in criminal cases is limited to actual damages; meaning a court cannot order damages for pain and suffering, loss of consortium or loss of income. In those cases, victims have the right to file a civil law suit to seek damages.
It is important to note that a victim cannot receive compensation for the same damages in both a criminal case and a civil case. This means that if a criminal court orders a drunk driver to pay restitution for damage caused to a victim’s fence, the victim cannot get a second judgment in civil court ordering the driver to pay a second time for the same damage.
When a victim of drunk driving is injured or killed, a criminal court often does not have the ability to order restitution sufficient to make the victim whole. In these cases, the victim can ask the prosecuting attorney not to seek restitution and the victim can file a civil suit for a variety of damages.
If you are injured by a drunk driver, it is wise to consult with a personal injury lawyer to determine your best course of action. Often a civil suit is your best recourse when attempting to recover the costs of medical treatment, lost wages, damaged property or other economic damages. Civil suits, depending upon the law of your jurisdiction, also may offer the opportunity to recover non-economic damages such as money for pain and suffering.
If a loved one is killed by a drunk driver, you or another duly appointed personal representative may file a civil suit for wrongful death on behalf of the loved one’s estate. A wrongful death suit is often a mechanism employed by family members to ensure that those surviving the deceased have some financial stability. Both economic and non-economic damages are generally available in wrongful death actions, and some states may allow punitive damages as well. Punitive damages are arbitrary amounts awarded with the sole intent of punishing the drunk driver and deterring future drunk driving incidents.