The Legal Consequences of a Drunk Driving Accident

The Legal Consequences of a Drunk Driving Accident

Motorists generally are familiar with the criminal sanctions associated with being arrested for driving under the influence. The penalties imposed in most states for DUI are significant and can have lasting consequences.

What many individuals may not be as aware of are the serious civil consequences a person can face if he or she causes an accident while driving a car under the influence. By this it is meant that an individual that causes a DUI related accident can face significant consequences in a lawsuit.

Compensation in a DUI Accident Case

The compensation awarded in a DUI accident case depend upon the specific facts and circumstances surrounding the accident, coupled with the nature and extent of injuries sustained by the victim or victims of the accident. With that noted, the types of losses for which compensation can be awarded in a drunk driving accident case include:

  • medical bills and expenses
  • pain and suffering
  • emotional distress and mental anguish
  • permanent disability
  • lost income
  • property damage or loss

Keep in mind that when a person pursues a claim for injuries, damages, and losses associated with a drunk driving accident, that individual is entitled to compensation not only for existing losses or losses incurred to date. An individual injured in a drunk driving accident is also entitled to financial recovery for losses that are reasonably foreseeable in the future.

A person injured in a drunk driving accident is likely to require medical care and treatment into the future. He or she may endure chronic pain, a situation that may even extend for the remainder of the individual’s life. An injured person may not be able to return to work anytime soon. Indeed, he or she may end up in a situation that he or she can’t return to the line of employment enjoyed before the accident. All of these situations represent examples of losses for which a person injured in a drunk driving accident may seek compensation.

Punitive or exemplary damages may also become an issue in a drunk driving accident lawsuit. Punitive or exemplary damages represent additional compensation awarded in a drunk driving lawsuit if the conduct of the person that caused the accident is deemed to be particularly egregious or reckless. (That oftentimes is the case when intoxicated driving is the root cause of an automobile accident.)

Who is Responsible for a Drunk Driving Accident?

Obviously, an intoxicated driver who causes an accident is a responsible party. However, the last in many states in the United States is in a state of flux. For example, businesses like bars and restaurants historically were protected from being sued of a patron left an established intoxicated and caused a drunk driving accident. These statutes were collective known as dram shop laws.

In a growing number of jurisdictions, these protective laws are giving was to statutes and rulings in appellate court cases that are permitting an injured person the ability to not only sue a drunk driver but also a retail establishment that served the driver alcoholic beverages, in certain situations.

Establishing Responsibility if a DUI Accident Case

In order to hold a person or business responsible for losses caused by an intoxicated driver, beyond the driver itself, four elements must be satisfied. First, there must be a duty of care. In other words, the laws of a state must establish a duty or responsibility on the part of a retail liquor establishment to not serve alcohol to an intoxicated customer.

Second, there must be a breach of that duty. A breach occurs if an employee of a retail liquor establishment continued to serve an intoxicated person, knowing that individual to be drunk.

Third, the conduct of the establishment must be the proximate cause of the resulting accident and associated injuries. Overserving a patron alcohol must be the legal and actual cause of the accident and injuries. The bar or restaurant employee must have been able to reasonably foresee an automobile accident as a reasonably possible consequence of overserving alcohol to a patron.

Finally, the person pursuing a drunk driving car accident lawsuit must have sustained actual injuries, damages, or losses. These losses cannot be merely something completely speculative. A person who escaped such an accident without actual losses cannot make a claim based on a contention that something or another might arise as some future point in time.

Legal Assistance

When confronted with the prospect of being sued by a person injured in a drunk driving accident, legal assistance is advised. Legal rights are best protected through professional representation by an experienced attorney.

Jessica Kane writes for TIPS Alcohol Training, offering TIPS responsible alcohol service training online for both on and off premise needs.


I'm a mother of 2 who likes to get involved in too much! Besides writing here I started a non-profit, I'm on the PTO board, very active in my community and volunteer in the school. I enjoy music, reading, cooking, traveling and spending time with my family. We just adopted our 3rd cat and love them all!

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