When you have been hit by a drunk driver, life can suddenly become a whirlwind of uncertainty. The healing process for your family and yourself takes time, and questions about the future can hang heavy, especially when the medical costs and other expenses are piling up. You’ve seen the other driver carted away by the police to be put behind bars and he or she may be facing criminal charges, but what does that mean for you? What about the hospital bills, the damage to your vehicle, and the time you’ve had to take away from work? How you’re going to pay for everything becomes a big question mark.
Here’s what you should know about seeking compensation from someone who has already been arrested for driving while impaired (DWI), and how you can get legal help with your accident case today.
Criminal and Civil Charges After a DWI
After causing an accident, it’s likely that the drunk driver was arrested by law enforcement, and he or she is now facing one or more criminal charges. The punishments for DWI vary depending on the situation and severity of the accident, but a conviction for a first-time offender can include up to $2,000 in fines plus additional fees, a suspended license, and up to 180 days in jail.
If you’ve been hit by a drunk driver, there’s one thing that you may have noticed is missing from the list of possible punishments: restitution to the victims. That’s because criminal law isn’t typically concerned with addressing the losses to individuals. These charges are intended to punish the person who has committed the crime so that he or she can repay society, not the specific people who have been wronged. To recover your financial losses, your main method of seeking compensation is through a civil lawsuit.
The civil court system is a separate branch of the justice system, distinct from the criminal court system. It has its own set of rules that are different than the criminal court system. It is regular, and even expected in many cases, that someone who has committed a crime can and will face charges in both types of court, often at the same time.
Criminal and civil cases may overlap, but the outcome of one or the other will have little or no effect on the other. Since civil cases and criminal cases are independent of one another, both follow separate timelines, and a decision in one case won’t affect the outcome of the other. In fact, the two cases are so independent that law enforcement will usually be of very little assistance in a civil claim. Your attorney may be able to get a limited amount of information to help your case from the police, but that’s about as far as the contact between the criminal and civil portions of the situation will interact.
Can I Still File a Lawsuit If the Driver Has Been Convicted?
If the criminal case results in a conviction and the drunk driver is behind bars, you can still make your claim in civil court. However, it’s important to note that either a criminal charge or a conviction aren’t necessary to make a claim in civil court. A finding of innocence in criminal court doesn’t mean a civil case will fail, either, due to the way our legal system is designed.
Both criminal and civil courts have a “standard of proof” that is required to win a case against someone. Since the consequences of a criminal conviction are potentially severe—the loss of freedom and restrictions on certain rights or civil liberties are at stake—the standard of proof in a criminal case is very high. Proving a criminal case means that the person must be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and is assumed innocent until proven otherwise. This is a fundamental part of criminal justice in the United States and helps protect the rights of the accused.
However, civil actions are a different matter. The person being sued does not face incarceration. He or she instead faces paying back the person that is owed for damages suffered. This means that the burden of proof for a civil case is lower than that of a criminal case. Plaintiffs (the person filing the lawsuit) generally must only meet a standard of a “preponderance of evidence,” which is usually taken to mean proving that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the act. This means that it’s entirely possible that while the government’s criminal charges may have failed, you can still succeed in a civil trial.
Get Legal Help Today
If you’ve been injured by a drunk driver, a civil lawsuit can help you recover financially from your accident. You may be eligible to receive compensation for your medical bills, physical therapy or rehabilitation, time away from work, loss of future earning potential, your pain and suffering, and more.
The attorneys at Wayne Wright LLP have been standing up for the rights of those who have been hurt due to the negligence, recklessness, and wrongdoing of others for decades, and we are here to help you and your family start the recovery process today. For a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced legal professional, call us by phone, send an email with our contact form, or click the live chat box on this page right now.