How Drunk Driving Defenses to Criminal Charges Affect a Civil Injury Case

According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, there were 1,290 crashes in Des Moines involving impairment by drugs or alcohol between 2004 and 2008. Many drunk driving accidents result in serious injuries to innocent drivers. Those injured by drunk drivers have a right to pursue a legal claim for damages from the accident.

In these claims, the outcome of the drunk driving criminal case can affect the claimant’s civil case against the drunk driver, especially if he or she is convicted. But even if the driver mounts a successful drunk driving defense, he or she still may be liable for civil damages.

Common Drunk Driving Defenses

To prove that a driver was guilty of driving under the influence (DUI), the state needs to show that the defendant drove a car and was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both while doing so. A defendant might challenge whether the arresting police officer had probable cause to stop the vehicle in the first place.

Defendants also might call into question the validity of the results of a breath, blood or urine test. For instance, a driver might argue that the tests results are inaccurate because the machine that measures the BAC is faulty. They might also question whether the chemical test was administered correctly – e.g., that the technician who performed the analysis was unqualified. Consumption of food or certain medications prior to the test also may throw off the results, some defendants might argue.

How the Drunk Driving Case Impacts the Injury Case

If a defendant is convicted of a DUI after the accident, the claimant may refer to that conviction to demonstrate the defendant was negligent and caused the accident. This can allow the accident victim ultimately to collect an insurance settlement or win a lawsuit.

Even when there is no DUI conviction, the plaintiff may be able to introduce evidence that the defendant was drunk and therefore negligent. There is a lower standard to establish negligence in a civil case as opposed to guilt in a criminal one. So just because a defendant was not convicted of a DUI in the criminal justice system doesn’t mean he or she won’t be liable for damages in a civil claim.

Keep in mind that you must establish that the drunk driver actually caused the accident and your damages. Just being drunk doesn’t mean that the driver caused the crash to occur. If you were speeding, ran a red light and slammed into the drunk driver who was not violating any traffic laws other than driving while impaired, you may hold the majority, if not all, liability for the accident. The drunk driver still may face DUI charges, but you may be unable to collect damages from him or her.

Iowa is a modified comparative negligence state, so as long as you are less than 51 percent at fault for the accident, you can collect damages. But any damages you collect will be reduced by your proportion of fault.

Get Legal Help in Des Moines

An attorney at Walker, Billingsley & Bair can evaluate the details of your case and help you pursue damages in a civil case against a drunk driver. Contact our office at 888-435-9886 or visit our contact page to set up an appointment with a lawyer.

Corey Walker
With over 20 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.