Hunter & Cassidy Law

Can someone sue a drunk driver convicted after a crash?

On Behalf of | Sep 19, 2023 | Motor vehicle accidents

Drunk driving is a major safety concern in Missouri. Although most people are aware of the risk and diligently avoid getting behind the wheel while under the influence, there are some people who put their own convenience or enjoyment ahead of the safety of others. Others simply are unaware that the drinks they’ve had haven’t yet metabolized to a safe blood alcohol concentration level.

Some people who have close calls with drunk drivers can spot them and adjust their route to avoid a crash. Others only realize that someone is probably under the influence of alcohol after a wreck occurs. Responding officers may push for the prosecution of any drunk driver who has endangered the lives of others. If prosecutors convict a driver who caused a crash (or they plead guilty), will their conviction prevent a lawsuit brought by those impacted by the collision?

Double jeopardy rules do not apply to civil lawsuits

One of the many federal protections that individuals have is the right to be free from repeat prosecution for the same criminal offense. The government could not bring charges against that driver twice for the same alleged drunk driving incident.

However, civil litigation is not the same thing as criminal prosecution. A lawsuit does not involve the use of state authority but rather an individual seeking to hold another person or a business accountable for negligence or misconduct. Therefore, Missouri’s successful prosecution of a drunk driver will have minimal impact on someone’s right to ask for compensation by filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

In many cases, the official court records of a drunk driving conviction will strengthen someone’s personal injury case, as it can serve as evidence that the defendant violated the law and put themselves in an actionable position. Particularly when a crash has major consequences or when a drunk driver doesn’t have adequate insurance coverage, a lawsuit may be the most effective means of seeking justice after a drunk driving wreck.

Holding someone who drove while drunk accountable can create consequences for that irresponsible person and minimize the consequences for everyone else involved in the situation.