Can You File a Lawsuit If a Drunk Driver Gets Off in Criminal Court?
Injury & Accident Attorney Serving Nearby Areas of Columbus & Fort Benning, Georgia and Phenix City, Alabama
Drunk driving is illegal in all states, and anyone who gets caught doing so can face criminal charges.
In Georgia and Alabama, a first offense DUI is considered a misdemeanor. That means drivers could face prison time of up to a year for driving under the influence! Each subsequent DUI brings harsher criminal charges and penalties. By the fourth DUI, it’s considered a felony, and the consequences can follow the offender for the rest of their life.
However satisfying it might be for victims of drunk driving accidents to see the people who injured them, or killed a loved one, go behind bars, they usually aren’t helped by criminal convictions unless those drunk drivers are ordered to pay restitution as part of their probation.
To get compensation, victims have to pursue civil lawsuits. By filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim after a drunk driving accident, the victim or victim’s family can get compensation for medical and funeral expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.
But what happens if the drunk driver gets off “not guilty?” Are your chances of getting compensation in court ruined as well?
No, and here’s why.
Criminal and Civil Cases are Different Proceedings
While the Fifth Amendment protects people from being tried twice for the same crime, the key word is “crime.” It only applies to criminal court. Criminal and civil court are completely different, and just because someone is found not guilty in a criminal case does not mean they can’t also be tried in civil court. Nor does it mean the outcome will always be the same.
The most famous example is the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Although O.J. Simpson was found not guilty for the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman in criminal court, their families filed wrongful death claims against Simpson in civil court, and that jury found him liable for both. So while Simpson did not have to face jail time, he was ordered to pay the families compensation.
That’s Not to Say It Will Be Easy
When the other driver is obviously at fault, such as when they’ve been convicted of DUI, the insurance company will usually agree to settle more easily because they want to avoid going to court and in front of a sympathetic jury.
But if the drunk driver who injured you was acquitted or the charges were dropped, their insurance will dispute the claim and fight you on paying, so you’ll probably need to take the matter to court.
However, a drunk driver can be acquitted for a number of reasons and still be responsible for the crash.
- If there was a problem with the breathalyzer
- If the field sobriety test wasn’t conducted properly
- If they pled guilty to a lesser charge, such as reckless driving
At the Law Offices of Gary Bruce, We Know What We’re Doing
Criminal courts have a higher standard of proof than civil cases, which means a drunk driving suspect getting acquitted is not always a bad sign for your chances of winning a civil lawsuit.
Our experienced Georgia car accident attorneys will be able to compile other evidence, including statements from witnesses to the accident, testimony from people who witnessed the other driver drinking before the accident occurred, and accident reconstruction reports that prove the other driver was negligent and caused your injuries or the death of your loved one.
Let us prove how we can get you the compensation you need and deserve for your losses, and call for a free consultation today.