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How do drunk driving civil and criminal cases impact one another?

On Behalf of | Jan 18, 2023 | Car Accidents

Personal injury matters are tried in civil court, and many cases only involve elements of civil law. However, there are times when injury victims sue someone who is also facing criminal charges for the same act that caused their injuries. Drunk driving accidents are a classic example.

Obviously drunk driving is illegal, and those who do it face a variety of criminal punishments. But if you were injured by a drunk driver in a car accident, you can also file a civil claim against them to seek compensation.

Many people are unsure whether a criminal case limits their ability to file a civil action, or whether the two cases will have an impact on one another. Hopefully, the following information will clear up any uncertainties.

Criminal and civil cases serve different purposes

Because of the danger it poses to all other travelers on the road, drunk driving is illegal under California Vehicle Code 23152(a). When someone breaks the law and drives drunk, criminal charges are primarily intended to punish the wrongdoer. They may be ordered to pay some restitution to victims that they have harmed while driving drunk, but this isn’t true in all cases. Even when they do pay court-ordered restitution, it may not be enough to adequately compensate the victim.

By contrast, personal injury lawsuits are primarily about seeking compensation for harms suffered. You can sue the at-fault driver for damages that include medical bills, lost wages, property damage, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent disability, scarring and disfigurement and more.

In short, criminal and civil cases serve different purposes, both of which are important following a drunk driving crash.

The burden of proof and whether outcomes influence one another

You may be wondering whether you can still win a personal injury case against a drunk driver who wasn’t convicted of a crime. Thankfully, the answer is yes. Criminal and civil courts use two different standards or proof. To secure a conviction in criminal court, the prosecution must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which can be difficult to do in some cases.

By contrast, plaintiffs in a personal injury trial can prove the defendant’s liability by a “preponderance of the evidence.” That means it is more likely than not that the defendant was negligent. Even if the defendant got off on a technicality or evidentiary problem in criminal court, they could still be held liable in a civil case.

Additionally, it is even easier to win a civil case if the defendant is convicted, as a DUI conviction would provide sufficient proof of the defendant’s negligence.

Discuss your legal options with attorneys who listen and care

If you were seriously injured by a negligent drunk driver, our attorneys at Woods Williford, P.C., are here to help you seek accountability in civil court. We will take the time to hear your story and explain your options, then we will work tirelessly to obtain maximum compensation for you and your loved ones. Reach out today to schedule your free initial consultation.