Will the Defendant’s DUI Conviction Help My Car Accident Lawsuit?

Driving while under the influence remains a serious concern in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania DUI Association, 9,811 drunk driving crashes were recorded in 2018.

This figure accounts for 28 percent of the state’s total traffic fatalities. Those who are fortunate enough to survive an accident with a drunk driver deserve to be compensated for their injuries, their pain, and suffering. It seems reasonable to assume that a defendant’s criminal conviction for driving under the influence would advance a case for personal injuries.

In many states, it would. But Pennsylvania is not one of them. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that convictions for traffic violations– including DUIs– are not admissible in civil proceedings to demonstrate liability.

This is evident in the court’s Emerick v. Carson ruling: “It is well settled that when recklessness or carelessness is at issue, proof of intoxication is relevant, but the mere fact of consuming alcohol is not admissible, being unfairly prejudicial unless it reasonably establishes intoxication.”

While a defendant’s DUI conviction can result in hefty fines, license suspension, and jail time– among other penalties– it does not guarantee fair restitution in a subsequent civil lawsuit.

The interplay between the criminal and civil justice system is complex, and best explored with a Pittsburgh personal injury lawyer from our team. We can explain the nuances of Pennsylvania DUI legislation and help you protect your interests while seeking maximum compensation.

DUI accidents: civil vs. criminal lawsuits

The vast majority of DUI accidents that result in serious injuries or death are prosecuted in both civil and criminal court. When you file a personal injury lawsuit, it is generally based on theories of negligence.

In other words, the defendant had a duty to exercise reasonable care and breached this duty, resulting in your injuries. A criminal conviction for DUI does not explicitly imply that the defendant was negligent, only that they had a blood alcohol content of at least 0.08 or higher and legally intoxicated.

Clearly, any person who operates a vehicle while intoxicated is prone to reckless and negligent behavior. However, it is up to your attorney to present evidence the defendant was driving drunk, and that this constituted negligent behavior– that in turn caused your injuries.

In some criminal DUI cases, the courts may order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim for property damage, lost income, and medical expenses. Under Pennsylvania law, compensation cannot include monies to account for intangible losses like emotional distress, pain, and suffering, or loss of enjoyment of life.

Suing for compensation after a DUI accident

If you opted for fault-based auto insurance in Pennsylvania, you could file a claim with the defendant’s insurance company to recover compensation for your injuries. Given the often-catastrophic consequences of drunk driving accidents, your medical bills and losses may exceed insurance policy limits. In situations like these, you may be advised to file a lawsuit in civil court.

If the defendant was already convicted of a DUI, this could ultimately increase your chances of achieving a fair settlement or award. Your attorney may also seek punitive damages, which are meant to punish the defendant’s egregious conduct.

If you have ‘limited tort’ car insurance, you can file a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver. Still, you cannot seek pain and suffering damages unless you suffered a serious injury that results in disfigurement or impairment of bodily functions.

Contact us for expert legal advice

Our goal is to help clients who were unjustly injured obtain the compensation they deserve. Our attorneys have recovered $1 billion for their clients. We provide fierce advocacy, personal attention, and unwavering dedication throughout every phase of the legal process.

Call our firm to speak with a Pittsburgh car accident attorney about your DUI accident injuries. The case review is free, and there are never any upfront legal costs.