Are Drunk Drivers at Fault for Your Injuries?

Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is a dangerous crime in Kansas City, Missouri. It is responsible for thousands of serious injuries and deaths in the state each year. The most recent year data is available from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, drunk driving caused 3,480 personal injuries and 205 deaths. DWI comes with criminal penalties in Missouri, but that does not make a drunk driver automatically liable for the other driver’s damages. Driver intoxication, however, can increase the odds of the driver having to pay.

Civil vs. Criminal Liability for a Drunk Driving Accident

Drunk driving involves two forms of driver liability: criminal and civil. These two justice systems operate independently of one another. Being convicted of a crime will not mean bearing automatic civil liability for a victim’s damages. Instead, it will be up to the injured party in the accident case (the plaintiff) to prove the defendant’s civil liability to obtain a monetary award for damages, even after a successful criminal case against the defendant. Winning a civil claim against a drunk driver takes proving four elements.

  1. Duty of care. Every driver in Missouri owes other drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians on the road duties of care. This duty includes never driving drunk.
  2. Breach of duty. Evidence of drunk driving is typically enough to prove that the at-fault driver breached his or her duty of care.
  3. Causation. The driver’s intoxication or reckless driving must have been the proximate cause of the car accident for the driver to be civilly liable.
  4. Damages. Finally, the plaintiff must have evidence of damages, or injuries, from the driver’s breach of duty of care.

Proving fault for a car accident takes establishing these four elements through a preponderance of the evidence. The preponderance of evidence means the defendant is more likely to be guilty than not guilty of causing the car accident. If a criminal case against the defendant leads to an official DWI conviction, this could serve as powerful evidence in your civil case. A DWI conviction can increase the odds of you winning your civil case against the drunk driver, even if it does not equal automatic liability.

Evidence of Civil Liability in a DWI Accident Case in Missouri

Fault is never automatic in a car accident case, even if the other driver’s fault seems apparent or obvious. It is still up to you, the injured party, to prove the other party’s fault under Missouri’s fault-based car accident laws. This may be as simple as submitting a copy of the police report to the drunk driver’s insurance company if the police report says the other driver’s intoxication caused the crash. The DWI driver’s insurance company may see this as enough evidence to offer you a fair settlement award.

In some cases, however, it may take further evidence to prove the drunk driver’s fault for your injuries. You may need to hire a DWI accident lawyer in Kansas City to represent your case and help you gather evidence, such as the other driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) test results, eyewitness statements and closed-circuit television footage. The burden of proof in a DWI accident civil claim requires your side of the case to prove the other driver owed you a duty of care, breached this duty and caused your car accident.

Still other DWI accident cases may enact the doctrine of negligence per se. Negligence per se is a concept that states because the defendant broke a law, the courts will consider him or her negligent. After a defendant receives a conviction for DWI in Missouri, the civil courts may see this as enough grounds to use a negligence per se argument during a civil accident claim. If this happens in your case, you will not need any further evidence of the drunk driver’s guilt to receive compensation for your damages. Work with an attorney for help with your drunk driving case.