Driving under the influence (DUI) is a criminal offense that affects the lives of thousands of people across Florida as well as their loved ones. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Safety Administration, nearly 1,000 of the traffic fatalities in Florida were alcohol-related in the year 2009. This figure does not include accidents that resulted in the serious bodily injury of other passengers, drivers, pedestrians, and others.
Under Florida Statute A� 316.193, driving under the influence is a serious criminal offense, punishable by lengthy jail time and expensive fines. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the alleged offense, it can be considered either a misdemeanor or felony offense. Sections 3 and 4 of this statute relates to DUI offenses involving serious bodily injury and DUI manslaughter. The penalties of conviction are much more severe, and while this may be somewhat comforting to the victims of DUI accidents and their loved ones, it does not do anything towards addressing losses suffered.
With DUI cases involving bodily injury or death in Florida, the victim or the surviving family members of the victim can pursue civil action in order to address these losses. This is generally done with the aid of a personal injury attorney. In order to win a civil suit, he or she must prove that:
• The driver had a duty not to operate a motor vehicle negligently by driving while intoxicated;
• The driver breached his or her duty by driving while intoxicated;
• The accident victim suffered physical injury, mental damages, or death; and
• There is causation between the breach of duty to not drive while intoxicated and the damages suffered.
During the civil trial, the plaintiff must prove that his or her claims are true based on a “preponderance of evidence.” In essence, the plaintiff must prove that it is more than likely that the claim made is true. This is different than criminal trials, where it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, if the case involves a jury, the decision does not have to be unanimous. A decision requires at least 10 out of the 12 jurors.
If the defendant maintained insurance coverage at the time of the offense, he or she will likely be represented by an attorney from the insurance company. However, if the defendant did not have sufficient insurance coverage or did not have insurance, the plaintiff may pursue a claim directly against the defendant. Any attorney maintained by the defendant will likely attempt to show that their client is not at fault and that the plaintiff holds at least partial liability for the accident.
The DUI victim may also have cause to pursue civil action against the person or bar who sold the alcohol to the driver in question. Florida Statute A� 768.125 specifically addresses “liability for injury or damage resulting in intoxication,” which is commonly referred to as a “dram shop law.” This statute states that a person who sells or provides alcohol to a person under the age of 21 or knowingly serves alcohol to a person addicted to the use of alcoholic beverages may become liable for injury or damage resulting from the intoxicated person. While this is not easy to prove, it is a course of civil action that is can be considered if the DUI offender was clearly intoxicated when served alcohol or was a minor.
The primary purpose of the civil trial for car accident cases, regardless of who the claim is made against, is to attempt to make the plaintiff whole again for any losses suffered. This includes medical expenses, damage to property, loss of wages and employment, and pain and suffering. However, it’s critical to remember that there is a set window in which the DUI car accident victim can pursue a claim for damages. Florida also has its own statute of limitations, which specify the time period in which a personal injury victim has to pursue legal action. For actions that resulted in injury due to negligence, this period is 4 years (Florida Statute A� 95.11).