In Texas, as in most states, there is a distinct difference between a criminal case and a civil suit. A civil suit for drunk driving is a distinct procedure from any criminal actions a drunk driver may face. A criminal proceeding against a drunk driver is designed to protect the community from future injury by acting as a deterrent to drunk driving, as well as to discipline the drunk driver for acting in a careless manner. A drunk driver can face a criminal trial even if there is no accident or injury involved. The threshold needed is for an officer to see the drunk driver breaking the law in one way or another: They need probable cause to pull over the drunk driver.
The criminal side is handled by the District Attorney’s office and will often depend on the amount of evidence that was collected and if there was any violation of the Fourth Amendment reasonable search and seizure laws. Any violations of the Fourth Amendment by the government entity could mean a ‘not guilty’ verdict for the drunk driver. The case could even be thrown out if the officer is found to have done something wrong. This is different from a civil case against a driver who was drunk.
A civil case based on drunk driving comes in the form of an injury lawsuit filed by the victim of a drunk driver to recover damages for injuries, lost wages, pain, and suffering, future lost earning potential, etc.. If you are injured by a drunk driver, a civil suit could be your best and only remedy when attempting to recover the costs of medical treatment, lost wages, damaged property or other economic damages. Civil suits also may offer the opportunity to recover non-economic damages, i.e. money for pain and suffering.
While drunk drivers can face serious criminal charges, with penalties including restitution and jail time, they can also face civil liability if they are sued by their victims. Injuries caused by drunk driving are very often the subject of civil suits. If you or a loved one is injured or killed by a drunk driver, a civil suit may be your best path to recover damages for your losses. When I handle a case, I try to resolve the case outside of the courthouse for several reasons, the 2 most important being to save time and to save money for the case. However, sometimes a lawsuit is necessary to recover from the at-fault party.
When a drunk driver causes an accident, the collision is inherently more valuable from a personal injury standpoint. The claim is more valuable to jurors because factors such as drunk drivers enrage, anger, and infuriate the members of the jury. The insurance companies know this bit of information, and as a result, the insurance companies are more willing to correctly compensate the victims, our clients.