Over the years, the penalties for driving drunk have become much stricter. Today, anyone arrested for driving impaired faces serious criminal charges and will need the services of a car accident attorney. They may also face separate civil charges for personal injuries or property damage.
What might surprise some is that for first time offenders, the civil charges may carry a heavier penalty than the criminal charges. There are several scenarios regarding civil charges against drunk drivers, depending on which state the accident occurred in.
In all civil cases, the standard of proof is a preponderance of evidence, instead of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, as in criminal cases.
Civil Lawsuits in No-Fault States
Certain states, such as New Jersey, Utah and Massachusetts are no-fault states. This means that in order to file a civil lawsuit, an auto accident must conform to a stated severity and exceed a mandated dollar amount. Therefore, drunk drivers in no-fault states are not automatically subject to civil charges. This is true even if there are clear injuries or damage. Minor injuries or property damage probably won't require the services of a car accident attorney and will need to go through an insurance company.
These terms may seem restrictive, but there are reasons for them. If the injuries and damage are minor, an insurance claim will be much less time-consuming and costly than a lawsuit. This makes any claim payments faster.
Civil Lawsuits in Pure Negligence States
Conversely, in a pure negligence state, a drunk driver can be sued for any injuries or property damage, no matter the scope. In these cases, the plaintiff must prove fault without regard to dollar amounts or severity of injuries. This doesn't mean lawsuits are easier for auto accident attorneys to win, however.
Even in states with pure negligence laws, the terms differ from state to state. In some, like Virginia or Alabama, a defendant in a drunk driving accident may be able to avoid all liability if they can prove the accident victim was negligent in any way.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
In the event of a death due to a drunk driving accident, the victim's family or appointed representative can present a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased estate. Generally, one of the main factors in determining compensation is the victim's earning potential. Calculating damages can be complicated and experts may be called to help determine a fair amount.
A car accident attorney, like those at the Law Office Of Tammy Strohl PA, can help determine rights and explain their home state's laws. Calling one is the first step anyone involved in a drunk driving accident should take.