Recovering Personal Damages From a DUI Accident
If you have been in a car accident caused by a suspected drunk driver, you have legal rights, and there are several causes of action that will allow you to recover personal damages. First, you can recover any monetary expenses through restitution added to any criminal charges the driver may be facing. You must speak with the prosecutor working on the driver's case to get restitution added. This award will only be for actual monetary damages caused by the accident. These damages can be automobile repairs, medical bills, or proven lost wages.
In addition to restitution in criminal proceedings, you can also recover damages in a civil lawsuit against the driver. If the driver has been convicted criminally for driving under the influence (DUI or DWI), negligence or vehicular manslaughter, then proving fault in a civil lawsuit will be much easier for you. However, criminal convictions are not necessary to win a civil lawsuit.
In a criminal case, the defendant has a presumption of innocence and guilt must be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." This is because a person's liberty interests are at stake. The courts have determined that loss of money is not as severe as loss of freedom, so in a civil suit there is no presumption of innocence and fault only needs to be shown by a "preponderance of the evidence." That means its more likely than not that the defendant is liable for the damages. This is much lesser burden of proof for those injured as a result of a drunk driver.
Torts are civil laws designed to right wrongs caused by the defendant either intentionally or through their own negligence. Liability for civil laws comes in the form of both compensatory and punitive awards. Compensatory awards provide enough restitution to make the plaintiff (you) "whole" again. This means the jury will determine what amount of money is needed to put you (the DUI victim) into a similar lifestyle position you were in before the accident occurred.
Punitive damages are intended to deter future bad behavior. Many punitive damages are awarded in hundreds of thousands of dollars. This award may not come directly from the driver, but may be paid through his or her insurance company. Most states will not allow a victim to keep 100% of the punitive damages award, rather a large percentage of the award goes into statewide programs to prevent drunk driving and provide treatment for alcoholics.
If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a drunk driver, you should contact a personal injury DUI lawyer who is licensed to practice in your state. You may be able to recover damages under Wrongful Death, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, or Negligence Per Se. The most common civil liability involving drunk drivers occurs under a negligence action. However, if a loved one died as a proximate cause of the driver's actions, the surviving next of kin may bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver. Only a licensed personal injury attorney can tell you which course of action is appropriate for your situation.