The terms DWI and DUI are often used interchangeably. However, Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) are two different crimes in Texas. Put simply, a DWI is a charge available for ANY driver who either a) does not have his/her normal use of mental or physical faculties due to drugs or alcohol; OR b) has a blood alcohol content above .08%. For commercial drivers, the blood alcohol threshold is .04%.
On the other hand, a DUI charge is only available for drivers under the age of 21. Texas has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. This means that if a driver under the age of 21 has any traceable amount of alcohol in their system, they can be charged with a DUI. In theory, if a minor has even a .01% blood alcohol content, the can be charged with a DUI. Another possible penalty is that a minor can be charged with both a DUI and a DWI if their blood alcohol content is above .08%.
Nationwide, the Center for Disease Control reports that one in three traffic deaths involve a drunk driver. Locally, TXDOT reported 1,679 alcohol-related crashes in Travis County for 2016 alone. Of that total, 23 crashes resulted in fatalities. Key to understanding the severity of drunk driving accidents is learning how Texas law punishes drunk drivers.
If an intoxicated driver injures someone, it opens the door to exemplary civil damages under the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Exemplary damages are damages a plaintiff – the injured party — can recover beyond their regular compensatory damages. The purpose of exemplary damages is to punish a wrongdoer monetarily, rather than to compensate the victim for their losses.
Recovering exemplary damages is a two-step process. First, a plaintiff must prove that the driver was negligent, and caused the plaintiff to suffer economic and/or non-economic losses. Second, the plaintiff must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the harm suffered is due to the gross negligence, or recklessness, of the driver.
If a personal injury case is unable to be settled, and proceeds to trial, the two steps of the process are handled in separate phases. In the first phase of the trial, the jury determines liability and the amount of compensatory damages. In the second phase of the trial, the jury determines exemplary damages. A liability finding in the first phase of the trial is critical, because Texas law does not allow a plaintiff to recover exemplary damages if they do not first recover regular compensatory damages.
If you are the victim of a drunk driving accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and mental anguish. You may also be entitled to recover exemplary damages to punish the drunk driver for their reckless behavior. Proving a drunk driver’s negligence and recklessness can be difficult. And, because the amount of exemplary damages hinges upon the plaintiff’s compensatory damages, properly assessing and proving the compensatory damages is critical in drunk driving case. It is important to collect evidence from the scene of the incident, get access to the arresting officer’s police report, and promptly and diligently seek medical attention for your injuries. For help navigating the process, and to increase the chances of success, call our experienced Austin Car Accident Attorneys to advocate on your behalf.
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