Drunk driving accidents are ALWAYS preventable by never getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking—and state laws are in place to help protect road users from drunk drivers. But these accidents still happen every day and can result in serious physical injuries and emotional and financial difficulties for victims.

Contact our New Orleans car accident lawyers if you or a loved one has been involved in a drunk driving accident. We can help you seek financial compensation after your injury.

How Do Criminal Drunk Driving Cases Work?

Drunk drivers can be charged in both criminal and civil court cases. In criminal court, a prosecutor brings criminal DUI charges against the defendant. They must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest burden of proof required by law.

If the defendant is found guilty, they may be sentenced to jail time or face other penalties like fines.

In Louisiana, people convicted of drunk driving for the first time face a jail sentence ranging from 10 days to 6 months as well as fines up to $1,000. They also have their license suspended for 12 months. These penalties increase if the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is .20 or higher at the time of the accident.

Criminal penalties are enhanced for drivers who are repeat DWI offenders or have aggravating factors in their case. Second-time offenders face larger minimum penalties of at least 15 days in jail, 240 hours of community service, hefty fines, and participation in a court-approved substance abuse program.

Third-time drunk driving convictions face minimum fines of $2000 and a minimum of one year in prison.

How Civil Drunk Driving Cases Differ

Criminal charges punish the perpetrator but do nothing to help the victim. People involved in a drunk driving crash may have been seriously injured. They could be facing large medical bills or financial strain from being out of work while recovering.

Victims of drunk driving crashes must file civil claims against the driver to seek compensation for the accident.

Civil cases don’t face as high of a burden of proof to convict the defendant. The plaintiff is responsible for proving the defendant is civilly liable through clear and convincing evidence. They must present evidence that proves the drunk driving crash happened the way they alleged in their claim.

A defendant who is found civilly liable is responsible for paying damages to the plaintiff. This compensation includes economic damages to cover medical bills and lost wages, and well as non-economic damages for pain and suffering.

How to File a Civil Claim Against a Drunk Driver

People involved in drunk driving accidents have the right to file a personal injury claim against the drunk driver to seek compensation. In Louisiana, you have a one-year deadline to file your civil claim after your accident.

A lawyer can help you file your claim with the civil court. They also assist you in gathering and preserving the evidence needed for your civil case. This may include police reports, medical records, photographs of the accident or your injuries, receipts of financial costs, and witness testimony.

Your New Orleans injury lawyer can also negotiate with the defendant’s legal team on your behalf for a settlement to resolve things outside the courtroom.

Do They Need to Be Criminally Charged to File a Civil Claim?

No, a drunk driver does not need to be criminally charged for you to file a civil claim. If you were injured as a result of your accident, you can file a civil claim against the other driver. If they were criminally charged and their charges were dismissed, or if a criminal court could not prove their guilt, you can still seek damages through civil court.

If the drunk driver is criminally charged, your attorney may advise you to wait until the criminal court proceedings are completed before filing your civil claim. This is because a guilty criminal verdict helps bolster your civil case and makes your case easier to prove.

A not-guilty verdict doesn’t mean your civil case will fail—criminal cases just have a higher burden of proof so they are sometimes harder to prove.

Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers Can Help

If you’ve been injured in a drunk driving accident through no fault of your own, a car accident attorney from Dudley DeBosier can help you seek damages through a civil lawsuit. We understand the difficult time you’re going through and will fight to get you maximum results. Contact us today for a free consultation.

Originally published January 17, 2022.

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