Can I Sue A Drunk Driver In Civil Court?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 3000 people died in drunk driving accidents in Louisiana between 2003-2012, and the death rates for all ages are consistently above the national average. While it is a crime to drive intoxicated in Louisiana, and many drivers do face criminal charges, what many do not know is that it is possible to file a civil lawsuit against an alleged drunk driver as well, seeking recovery for your medical bills and other damages.
If you have been injured by a drunk driver, contacting an experienced Shreveport drunk driving accident attorney may be a good idea. We understand how potentially devastating this kind of accident can be, and will work hard to ensure that you have the best chance to recover for the damages you have sustained.
Criminal Conviction Does Not Bar Civil Suit
As in every other state, it is against the law to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08% or higher in Louisiana. Usually criminal guilt is established by proof of the defendant’s actions – for example, a verified BAC, or the crash report is sometimes sufficient. Depending on whether or not this is the defendant’s first offense or not, they may face anywhere from 10 days to 5 years in jail, plus fines of up to $2,000.
If a drunk driver is convicted of a crime, very often their victim does not file a lawsuit in civil court for their damages, because they wrongly believe that double jeopardy (the right not to be tried twice for the same crime) applies and bars that suit. However, this is not the case; the U.S. Fifth Amendment bars being tried twice in criminal court or facing two civil lawsuits regarding the same matter; one of each is not considered inappropriate.
Be advised that while having a criminal and a civil proceeding against the same person does not violate their Fifth Amendment rights, it may be necessary to ‘stay’ the civil proceeding until the conclusion of the criminal trial. However, this can actually work to your advantage; the standard of proof is higher in a criminal case than in civil court, so the criminal case may turn up information your attorney will be able to use in the civil matter.
Causation Is Crucial
In order to file a civil suit against a drunk driver in Louisiana, you must have evidence not only that the driver had been drinking, but that their drinking was the direct cause of your injuries. Unlike in many other jurisdictions, the mere fact of the driver being intoxicated is not sufficient to establish liability – however, it is persuasive evidence of negligence, which goes a long way toward establishing culpability in itself. Other information that can establish negligence more clearly includes photos, eyewitness testimony, and accident reconstruction notes.
If you have sustained significant injuries in an auto accident in Louisiana, you are able to seek not only economic damages (tangible damages like medical bills), but also non-economic damages (those that are harder to quantify, such as pain and suffering). In extreme cases involving a drunk driver, punitive damages may also be available, given that drunk driving is seen as such a particularly egregious crime against society.
If you have been injured by a drunk driver, the thought of filing a lawsuit can be overwhelming, but you deserve to have your bills paid so you can focus on physical recovery. A Shreveport drunk driving attorney from Rice & Kendig can help to handle the load, obtaining medical records and crash reports so that you do not have to spend days on the phone. We are here to help. Call our offices today at 318-222-2772 for a free consultation.