Criminal DUI Cases Vs. Civil Drunk Driving Lawsuits

Drunk driving accidents can leave victims with devastating injuries and permanently changed lives. While you might envision a person being arrested and charged with a DUI after an accident, a drunk or drugged driving collision can also result in civil liability. There is a large difference between civil drunk driving lawsuits and criminal DUI cases. While both provide avenues for holding drivers accountable, it is important for victims and defendants to understand the differences between these two types of cases. If you are facing criminal charges after a drunk driving accident, talking to an experienced criminal defense attorney in West Chester, PA at DiCindio Law who also practices in the area of personal injury law can help you to better understand the potential repercussions you might be facing.

Civil lawsuits vs. criminal DUI cases

If you are arrested for a DUI, a prosecutor will be responsible for prosecuting the criminal case against you. Criminal prosecutors always have the burden of proving criminal charges against defendants. The burden of proof in a criminal case, which is beyond a reasonable doubt, is the highest burden of proof required under the law.

Criminal prosecutors must prove each element of a DUI offense against a defendant before he or she can be found guilty. If a person who causes a drunk driving accident is found guilty, he or she will face prison time, substantial fines, and other penalties. However, since the burden of proof required of prosecutors is so high, defendants will be found not guilty if a prosecutor is unable to prove one of the elements of the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

In civil drunk driving lawsuits, plaintiffs may file claims against drunk drivers to pursue damages. Unlike a criminal case, a civil lawsuit will not result in jail or prison time. Instead, a defendant who is found to be civilly liable will be responsible for paying monetary damages to compensate the victims for their economic and noneconomic losses. Since a civil lawsuit will not involve the loss of the defendant’s freedom, the burden of proof required of plaintiffs is lower than the burden of proof required of criminal prosecutors.

In a civil lawsuit, a plaintiff will have the burden of proving the defendant’s liability for a drunk driving accident by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the plaintiff must present evidence proving that it is more likely than not that the accident happened in the way that the plaintiff argues. Since the burden of proof is lower in a civil lawsuit, this means that you could be found to be liable in a civil drunk driving lawsuit even if you are found to be not guilty in your criminal case. If you are found to be liable in the civil lawsuit, you will have to pay financial compensation to the plaintiff based on the verdict issued by the jury or a settlement agreement between you and the plaintiff.

If you cause an accident while you are impaired, the police will likely arrest you at the scene. An officer might ask you to submit to field sobriety tests and to blow into a portable breath testing

device at the scene before placing you under arrest. You will then be transported to the police station to submit a breath sample or to the hospital for a blood test. The criminal process involved in a drunk driving accident case is meant to punish you for allegedly driving drunk while also serving as a deterrent to others from engaging in similar conduct. Even if you do not cause an accident, you can still be criminally charged for drunk driving.

If you cause an injury accident while driving impaired, you can face both a criminal charge and a civil lawsuit. Since these types of cases fall under different bodies of law in Pennsylvania, both can be filed and proceed simultaneously. Even if your criminal charges are dismissed, you can still be civilly sued for a drunk driving injury accident and be forced to pay monetary compensation to the plaintiff.

Penalties in a criminal case vs. damages in a civil lawsuit

The criminal penalties for a DUI accident involving serious bodily injuries or deaths are severe. If you are convicted of one of these offenses, you will have a felony on your record and face a sentence of years in prison, hefty fines, and other penalties.

If you are found liable in a civil lawsuit for the same accident, you can also be forced to pay damages to the plaintiff to cover his or her economic and non-economic losses, including for the following types of things:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Past and future income losses
  • Property losses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of the ability to enjoy life
  • Loss of consortium
  • Other damages

If you are facing charges after causing an injury or fatality accident while driving impaired, it is critical for you to talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The victim in your criminal case could also file a civil lawsuit against you, exposing you to both criminal and civil liability. Even if you are found not guilty in your criminal case, you could still be forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in a civil claim.

Get help from DiCindio Law

After causing an injury accident while you were allegedly driving impaired in Pennsylvania, you may face both criminal charges and a potential civil lawsuit. One of the first steps that you should take is to consult with an experienced attorney who understands all of the potential consequences you might face. An attorney at DiCindio Law can carefully analyze the evidence in your case and help you to understand your legal options and what you might expect to happen in your case. Contact us today to request a free consultation by calling 610-430-3535.