If you were injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, you probably have questions about what will happen next. If the drunk driver was cited or charged with driving while impaired, or a related criminal charge, are you allowed to pursue a claim against the driver for your injuries and damages?
Yes, you are allowed to pursue your own claim against the driver, regardless of any criminal action filed against the driver. Your claim is a civil action that involves different laws and rules than the criminal action. Read on to learn the differences between these two cases and whether they affect each other in any way.
And for more specific information about your accident case, talk to a drunk driving accident lawyer from Gallon, Takacs, Boissoneault & Schaffer Co., LPA. Call us at 419-843-6663.
Standard of Proof in Civil and Criminal Cases
In the criminal case, the prosecutor will have to prove the defendant is guilty of the drunk driving charges beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a conviction against the drunk driver. This is a higher standard than is required in a civil case.
In your civil claim against the drunk driver, you merely have to prove your case by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence is simply that you present more credible (believable) evidence than the other side.
What evidence can be used in my civil claim against the drunk driver?
If evidence was allowed by the court in the criminal case, it will usually be allowed in the civil claim. And if the driver is convicted of a DUI or other alcohol-related charge, it may bolster your civil case. The conviction is public record, and it is relevant to the civil claim, so it is likely to be allowed as evidence in the civil claim.
You will ultimately need to prove not only that the other driver was drunk, but that his or her actions caused your accident. Other evidence that you might use in your civil case includes:
- Police report from the accident
- Evidence of driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
- Eyewitness testimony of the accident
- Surveillance footage from nearby cameras
- Photographs of the scene
- Accident reconstruction reports
- Testimony of people who witnessed the other driver drinking and becoming intoxicated
Will the verdict in the criminal case affect my civil claim?
Not necessarily. As discussed above, criminal cases require a higher standard of proof than civil cases. If the criminal case did not result in a conviction, that does not prevent you from winning your civil case. As we saw in the O.J. Simpson cases, a person can be found not guilty in the criminal case, but be found liable in the civil case.
Similarly, if the state does not pursue criminal charges, drops the case, or if the defendant pleads to a lesser charge, those circumstances do not prevent you from prevailing in your civil claim. All you have to do is present a preponderance of the evidence in your civil claim.
On the other hand, because the standard of proof is so much higher in a criminal case than in a civil case, if the criminal case results in a conviction, it may bode well for your civil claim. But you must still prove your civil case in order to recover compensation. This means proving not only impairment, but that the drunk driver caused the accident.
Will the Fifth Amendment apply to a civil case?
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects people from incriminating themselves. A drunk driver may plead the Fifth Amendment in the criminal case to refuse to answer a question that would be an admission of committing a crime.
The drunk driver may use the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answer questions in the civil case too. But unlike a criminal case where the judge or state cannot tell a jury that it can infer guilt from a defendant’s pleading the Fifth, there is no protection against inference of liability in a civil case for pleading the Fifth. From the Supreme Court ruling in Baxter v. Palmigiano (1976):
“[T]he Fifth Amendment does not forbid adverse inferences against parties to civil actions when they refuse to testify in response to probative evidence offered against them.”
Further, taking the Fifth prior to a civil trial during discovery or interrogatories may prevent the defendant from later testifying on the particular question that he or she previously refused to answer.
Should I wait until the criminal case is over before I make my civil claim for damages?
No. If a drunk driver has injured you, you should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible to protect your claim. There are deadlines for filing civil claims. If you wait too long, you can lose the right to ever seek compensation for your injuries and losses.
Your drunk driving accident lawyer will need to evaluate your civil claim for damages and monitor the status of the criminal case to devise the best strategy for your case. Drunk driving accident cases are complex, even when there is no corresponding criminal case.
The lawyers at Gallon, Takacs, Boissoneault & Schaffer Co., LPA, can help with your drunk driving accident case. We will answer your questions and handle your legal claim so you can focus on recuperating from your injuries.
We do not charge any fees for our services unless you recover compensation. Call us today at 419-843-6663 to schedule your free consultation.