Can you sue if the drunk driver wasn't convicted

Drunk driving is illegal in all 50 states, although drivers who make a habit of driving while drunk or tipsy may not get caught until they cause an accident. Unfortunately, sometimes drunk drivers are not convicted of driving under the influence, even when they cause accidents.

This may be because:

  • A breathalyzer test was never taken or was there was a problem with the equipment.
  • A field sobriety test was never given or was conducted inappropriately.
  • The officer waited too long to conduct a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.
  • Witness testimony was inadequate to prove impairment.
  • The offender pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, such as reckless driving.

If they aren’t charged with a DUI, what does that mean for their liability in an accident? If law enforcement fails to prove the other driver was drunk at the time of the accident, does that mean you can’t prove the accident was their fault?

No. Rest assured, even if the person who hit you was never charged with DUI, that doesn’t mean you can’t still sue them if you were injured when they hit you. Here’s why.

Criminal and Civil Cases are Different Proceedings

It’s possible for someone to be put on trial for a drunk driving accident in both criminal court and in civil court and get different outcomes. Both outcomes are valid without affecting the other. This is because criminal court and civil court, despite both being “courts of law,” are different legal systems that exist for different purposes.

Criminal court wants to prove that the offender harmed society by breaking the law, even if no one was actually injured. That’s why people can be arrested for drunk driving even if no one else was on the road.

Civil court wants to prove that the offender harmed someone specific by acting negligently, even if no law was broken. That’s why you can file a personal injury lawsuit even if the other person wasn’t criminally charged for their negligence or recklessness.

Furthermore, criminal court punishes guilty parties for crimes against society with fines paid to the state or with imprisonment. That means the people harmed by the guilty parties’ actions typically don’t get anything except the knowledge that the offender won’t be able to hurt anyone else. Civil court requires liable parties to make good on harm caused with financial compensation equal to the amount they suffered or lost paid to the person harmed.

In summary: you only need to prove the other person was being negligent when they hurt you and not that they broke the law. There are more ways to be negligent than driving while intoxicated.

How Can I Prove Negligence Without a Criminal Charge?

It is true that it is far easier to prove negligence for a civil lawsuit when the driver is charged with driving under the influence. However, a civil lawsuit doesn’t care why the other driver was driving reckless, only that they were.

Our team of experienced South Carolina auto accident attorneys can use accident scene reconstruction, witness testimony, skid marks, security camera footage, and other evidence to prove that the other driver was at fault, especially if they were driving under the influence of alcohol, even if they were never charged with that crime.

Call Joye Law Firm for a Free Case Consultation

If you or someone you love was injured in a crash caused by someone else, especially a drunk driver, you deserve compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Contact our team today to learn how we can make that happen.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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