Civil Liability in DUI Driving Accident Cases
Civil liability doesn’t always come to mind the moment of a drunk driving accident; injuries may be sustained and the person who caused the accident may be arrested on the scene. The outcome of a drunk driving accident differs in every case. Believe it or not, civil liability is one of the most common actions taken against a reckless driver after they’ve been charged with a DUI.
It’s important to be aware of those around us and if necessary, step in when we do see something. If a friend consumes alcohol, it’s important to withhold their keys and get them home safely in an Uber or Lyft or designate a person in your party who hasn’t been consuming alcohol to assist that person in getting home. When we choose to ignore a scenario in which someone in our party drinks and drives, claiming they’re “OK to drive”, this may place serious liability upon us (or the establishment in which they consumed the alcohol could become liable) for any accident caused while they were behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. If they cause injury or death to another motorist or passengers in their car, a pedestrian, or themselves, the laws surrounding this are clearly laid out by state––and the consequences are severe.
What happens after a drunk driving accident?
When someone sustains an injury or passes away as a result of a driver who chooses to drink and drive, families have the right to compensation. While no amount of money can replace the life of a lost loved one, as with any wrongful death, it does provide assistance in easing the financial burden of final expenses, medical bills, and lost wages. This is why retaining legal counsel to assist with filing a civil liability action in order to obtain damages is extremely important.
What are the consequences of drunk driving beyond civil liability?
Legal issues that surround DUI-related accidents and wrongful deaths can range from large fines and suspended licenses to serious prison time. Drunk driving accidents often cause more harm to the passengers in the vehicle and other motorists on the road than they do to the driver.
This article is touching on drunk driving in respect to the area of civil liability, so we will not go in depth about the criminal aspect of drunk driving. However, there will always be grave consequences when someone is found to be drinking and driving.. This is especially applicable when a driver is found to have been above the legal blood alcohol limit. Testing can be enforced by police officers at the scene of the accident if they have reasonable suspicion that the motorist is intoxicated or is acting erratically.
How does reasonable suspicion factor into civil liability?
When a law is broken this is what’s referred to by Personal Injury lawyers as “reasonable suspicion”. Reasonable suspicion applies in the event that law enforcement is able to smell alcohol on a driver. Using reasonable suspicion, officers are allowed to apply “reasonable force” on the driver should they refuse to submit to a Blood Alcohol Concentration test. Force is never a first line option for law enforcement and the driver will be asked to “reasonably” consent first. In the next section of this article we will go more in-depth about BAC testing.
What is Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) testing?
In certain states law enforcement may require a motorist to submit to a BAC–or a Blood Alcohol Concentration test. This varies greatly from state-to-state. In the state of Florida there are no laws specific to BAC testing. Therefore, it remains at law enforcement’s discretion whether or not to test the impaired motorist on the scene. There are two types of Blood Alcohol Concentration testing that can be issued by law enforcement:
- Mandatory BAC: some states require any driver who dies as a result of drunk driving to have a BAC. According to government websites providing this information, only half the states in the country have this requirement during autopsy.
- Discretionary BAC: Many states use what’s known as “discretionary” Blood Alcohol Concentration testing. This leaves the testing decision up to the medical examiner or other state official overseeing the case.
Based on the results of the aforementioned BAC test, “probable cause” comes into play. An officer cannot arrest a motorist without reasonable suspicion to first administer a BAC test. If the results conclude a driver is intoxicated, probable cause is given to make an arrest based on DUI. At this point, they can then be charged with the aforementioned DUI.
While this does not inherently concern the area of Personal Injury, the arrest of a driver who caused serious bodily injury or the death of a passenger in their car, or of another motorist or pedestrian can be indispensable when the victim or their family retains a Personal Injury lawyer and pursues compensation.
Does Florida have specific BAC laws?
The state of Florida does not have specific BAC laws, therefore it is a state that leaves the testing requirements up to law enforcement and the state officials who are overseeing the case.
A civility liability checklist
Here’s a quick checklist of what lawyers may need when filing civil liability action in cases of drunk driving:
Proving fault in a drunk driving accident:
- Was the driver shown to be impaired?
- Did their BAC indicate they were under the influence (and above the legal limit)?
- What was the intoxication level of the defendant?
- Did the driver act in a way that can be considered unreasonable or negligent? Did they put the public at risk?
What do you need? A short list:
- Police reports
- Witness statements
- BAC testing results
- An expert opinion’s testimony