Because drunk driving is illegal — in Texas, it may result in a felony charge if the negligent party causes serious injury or has been previously convicted of driving while intoxicated — it can complicate the process and timeline of obtaining compensation. Typically, law enforcement and prosecutors will first initiate a criminal investigation to look into the circumstances surrounding the accident.
This begins the criminal process for a drunk driving accident, where law enforcement gathers evidence to document the accident and intoxication. This information will be used to build a case so that the prosecutor, working for the government, can prove a crime was committed, such that the criminal will be subject to fines, license suspension, and possible jail time, as well as decide the impact to the individual’s criminal record.
Although the evidence discovered during the criminal investigation may be used in your injury case, the process of obtaining financial compensation for your harms and losses occurs through a separate civil action. Until the criminal process is complete, the government can block access to that important evidence, which can lengthen the timeline for resolving your civil case. But this evidence can also help to significantly increase your financial recovery if handled properly.
Drunk driving cases are unique from other accidents because they may involve gross negligence on the part of the intoxicated driver as well as the commission of a crime. Therefore, there are some additional things you’ll need to consider with your accident case:
- Criminal proceedings may impact your case. Although criminal and civil cases occur separately from one another, pending criminal charges can significantly impact your case. Law enforcement typically will not grant access to evidence while the criminal case is in process, so you may not have enough evidence to demonstrate that the driver was under the influence at the time of the crash.
Additionally, the evidence process may be especially labor intensive, depending on the kind of impairment test findings (such as breathalyzer data) that are available. The arresting authorities may be reluctant to share the information collected at the site of the crash, including audio and video recordings. In some cases, these proceedings can undermine or delay your civil suit.
On the other hand, a drunk driving conviction will typically strengthen your case. The burden of proof in a criminal case is much higher than that in civil trials, since prosecutors must prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, documentation created during the arrest and collected through the criminal investigation can be used as evidence in your case and can often lend credence to your claims.
- A not-guilty verdict in a criminal case doesn’t mean you can’t seek compensation. Outcomes in criminal cases often differ from those of parallel civil suits. For instance, even if a jury finds the defendant not guilty in a criminal trial, or if he or she is able to plea bargain down to a lower charge, that person can still be held responsible for damages in a civil suit. That’s because the burden of proof in a civil suit is not as difficult as in a criminal trial.
- Your initial insurance claim may be denied. As with any accident case, the driver who caused the accident is responsible for paying for damages, compensation that is administered at least in part through his or her insurance policy. In some cases, however, insurance carriers will deny coverage if the insured has been arrested for drunk driving.
This can create complications when you file your claim. The insurance provider may deny your claim or refuse to acknowledge the extent to which they are legally required to cover the damage their insured caused. Most insurance companies also downplay the significance of the involvement of alcohol or other intoxicants in your case, since they do not want to pay you as much as a jury might award. Hiring a drunk driving accident lawyer to negotiate on your behalf will often result in better outcomes in this process.
- You may be able to seek additional damages in drunk driving cases. In a typical accident case, damages include harms and losses that result from the accident, such as medical bills, lost income, and compensation for your pain and suffering. However, because drunk driving is such a serious offense, you may be able to sue for punitive damages as well.
If you can prove that a driver exhibited willful, extremely reckless behavior, known in Texas as “gross negligence,” you can seek punitive damages, a type of monetary damage designed to punish the other party rather than compensate the victim. However, your likelihood of receiving these damages depends on the circumstances of your case. An experienced drunk driving accident lawyer can help you understand whether you may be entitled to these damages.
- You may be able to sue the bar who overserved the drunk driver. In certain circumstances, bars and restaurants might also be held accountable for contributing to your drunk driving accident if they overserved their patron. Investigating the circumstances of how the driver became so intoxicated can play a very important role in recovering adequate compensation for your harms and losses.
- You might be eligible for compensation from the Texas government. The Texas Crime Victim Compensation Fund is a form of compensation offered by the state government to victims of serious crimes, including those affected by drunk driving accidents. The fund pays for medical bills, lost wages, mental health treatment, and other damages and losses directly resulting from your accident.
Not all accident victims are eligible for the fund, however. A Texas drunk driving accident lawyer can help you understand how likely you are to receive this type of compensation, and help you with the process of filing for it.
Because drunk driving accident cases can be extraordinarily complex — with multiple legal actions and many factors to consider — it’s recommended that you seek the advice of a qualified attorney to help you navigate your case. Although you do not necessarily need legal representation, a lawyer can help you:
- Stand up to insurance carriers. Insurance companies will fight hard to lower your insurance settlement or even deny it outright. But the right lawyer will fight even harder to ensure that you receive the compensation you need.
- Afford medical bills and other damages. Medical bills and other damages can be extensive in a drunk driving accident case, particularly if you have been permanently injured or disabled as a result. A drunk driving accident lawyer will help you identify ways to pay for your medical treatment and other bills while you wait for your case to be resolved.
- Navigate the criminal and civil proceedings. An attorney can help you understand the status of your case and the type of evidence available as the criminal case proceeds. Your lawyer can also advise you how to move forward with your case in the face of pending criminal charges.
- Communicate with law enforcement and other involved parties. A drunk driving accident case may involve many different parties, including police, prosecutors, insurance companies, witnesses, and of course, the defendant. A lawyer can help you coordinate with these entities in a way that will not damage your case.
Drunk driving accidents have significantly different legal implications than other car accidents. An experienced DUI accident attorney at FVF can educate you about the proper steps you should take, starting immediately after your drunk driving accident, to put you in the best position to maximize your recovery. Here’s what we offer our clients.
- Outstanding case outcomes. Our case record speaks for itself. With extensive experience with drunk driving cases, we can help you obtain the compensation you need to pay for damages and losses.
- Pressure-free guidance. You won’t find any hard sells at FVF. Our first priority is education, helping accident victims understand their rights and options without pressuring them to engage our services after an initial consultation.
- Legal and financial advice. We can help you seek punitive damages and recover from the financial impact of a drunk driving accident with transparent, straightforward counsel.
- Superior reputation. Our reputation among Austin drunk driving accident lawyers is unparalleled. We maintain an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau as well as outstanding reviews on Yelp, Google, and AVVO.
- Compassion for our clients. There are plenty of drunk driving accident lawyers in San Antonio and Austin, but few offer the compassionate counsel we provide to each and every client. We know how traumatic a drunk driving accident can be, and we work hard to make the process as simple and straightforward as possible so you can focus on your recovery.
- Free case evaluation. We offer a no-cost case consultation, helping accident victims understand the different ways they can proceed with their case before they decide whether to hire a lawyer.
Talking to an experienced DUI accident attorney will help you evaluate your case so you know what needs to be done to maximize your drunk driving accident settlement. We can help, and a case evaluation is always free. Contact us today to get started.