You Were Struck by an Impaired Driver – Will You Secure Compensation if They’re Found Not Guilty?
A DUI is a criminal charge and will always require a criminal proceeding to get a verdict of not guilty or guilty. Sometimes, in order to accept a plea, a driver will admit guilt without going through the court process. However, to be found not guilty, a driver will have to present their case in front of a court. After the court proceedings, if a court finds the driver not guilty, that does not mean they are free from owing compensation.
In criminal proceedings, compensation will never be awarded to the other party of an accident. If a victim of a drunk driving accident wants to gain compensation for their injuries and damages, they will need to file a claim with the insurance company or a civil lawsuit against the other driver.
Civil Lawsuit vs. DUI Criminal Charges
Those that cause an accident while drinking and driving may face both criminal charges as well a civil lawsuit. The criminal charges are brought by the state against the wrongdoer and a civil lawsuit is filed privately through a victim of the accident.
Aside from the party, the outcomes of criminal cases and civil cases are also different. In a criminal charge for DUI, the defendant can be found guilty and sentenced to time in prison or jail, given probation, forced to pay a fine, lose their driving privileges, and other court-ordered penalties. In contrast, a civil lawsuit is brought by the plaintiff to make them whole again through compensation. After someone is involved in an accident, they likely sustained injuries and property damage in order to properly recover damages, they sue the responsible party.
The standards for admissible evidence and the question of who bears the burden of proof are also different in a criminal case vs. a civil lawsuit. The burden of proof in criminal trials in Massachusetts is on the prosecution to show beyond a “reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty. This is a far higher bar than a civil law case, where a “preponderance of the evidence” standard is typically accepted by U.S. courts. This criterion requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that there is a greater than 50% possibility that the allegations are accurate.
Note that there can be a civil case and a criminal case for the same accident.
Do DUI Criminal Charges Affect a Civil Case?
The victim or their survivors may still bring a lawsuit against the defendant, regardless of whether they are convicted or have their charges dropped in a criminal trial. This will probably include bringing a wrongful death lawsuit in the event of a deadly collision.
Evidence that the court accepted in the criminal case will typically be accepted in the civil action as well. Additionally, it could help a civil case if the motorist is found guilty of a DUI or other alcohol-related offense. It is likely that the conviction will be accepted as evidence in the civil claim because it is a matter of public record and pertains to the claim. Though, if the person is found not guilty, this does not mean the civil case will fail.
The main aspect of a successful civil case is to prove that the defendant’s actions or inactions caused the accident and is responsible for the injuries sustained. If the plaintiff can show this, it does not matter the verdict of the criminal case.
The criminal case will always have a higher standard of burden and therefore, if the criminal case is not successful, that will not directly correlate to a civil case. Though, if there is a guilty verdict in a criminal case, this will likely help the success of a civil case.
Does the Criminal Case Need to be Complete in Order to File a Civil Complaint?
Simply stated, no, a verdict from a criminal case is not necessary in order to start a civil lawsuit. To safeguard a claim if someone was injured by a drunk driver in an accident, they should contact a lawyer as quickly as possible. There are dates by which civil claims must be filed, known as the statute of limitations, and therefore a claim should always be filed as quickly as possible to preserve this timeline. If not, an injured victim risks losing the ability to ever seek restitution for their losses and injuries if they wait too long.
A criminal case can take longer than a civil case. So, it is always best to file a complaint as soon as possible after an accident. An injured party should never wait for the result of a criminal case because they could potentially lose on collecting damages for their injuries.
DUI Statistics in Criminal and Civil Cases
Personal injury cases involving a drunk driving accident are some of the most common types of civil cases. Additionally, drunk driving accidents are responsible for 30% of all roadway fatalities in the United States, according to the NHTSA.
Across the United States, on average, DUI cases get dropped or have a verdict of not guilty in about 10-20% of all cases. Many states have a 90% conviction rate for DUI charges.
Drunk driving accidents are some of the most common, unfortunately, and are responsible for over a third of accident fatalities. In addition to being common, they also incur more damage than other accidents and are roughly responsible for $44 billion in damages each year. This is property damage as well as injuries to victims.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you are unsure of whether you should bring a civil lawsuit after an accident with a drunk driver, or you have questions about how a DUI verdict will affect a civil lawsuit, you should call 508-226-4500 or contact a Massachusetts Personal Injury lawyer.
A personal injury lawyer can give you advice on when to properly file a civil lawsuit, and they can keep tabs on any pending or completed criminal cases that could affect filing a civil complaint against the wrongdoer.