You might know that a drunk driver could face criminal charges and penalties for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. But you might not be aware that the driver could also be subject to civil action. Every year, thousands of people are injured or killed in alcohol-related accidents. Victims and their families can file an insurance claim or lawsuit against the responsible party to recover damages. As with any car accident case, the injured party must prove that the driver was negligent to seek compensation from a drunk driver. In certain situations, the victim may also be able to go after the establishment that sold the driver liquor to recover funds.
Missouri’s Drunk Driving Law
In Missouri, a person can be criminally charged for operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. They may also face prosecution if they drove while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol to the extent that their ability to drive safely was impaired.
A conviction for driving while intoxicated can result in jail time, fines, and driver’s license suspension. But the consequences do not end there. The driver may also face civil penalties if they caused an accident resulting in injury and the victim files a claim or lawsuit against them. Criminal charges and convictions do not bar civil claims.
Proving the Drunk Driver Was Negligent
Although an intoxicated driver might have been charged and/or convicted, they are not automatically found responsible for damages caused in an accident. The victim must still prove that the driver was negligent.
Proof of negligence requires showing that the:
- Driver owed the victim a duty of care. When someone gets on the road, they are expected to obey traffic laws and drive safely. These expectations help prevent harm to others. Thus, once the driver headed out on the highway, they owed others a duty of care.
- Driver breached the duty of care. Getting behind the wheel while intoxicated violates the state’s DWI laws. It is also dangerous because an inebriated person’s judgment, motor skills, and other faculties are decreased, making it difficult to control their vehicle safely. Intoxicated driving may be a breach of the duty of care.
- Driver’s negligence was the proximate cause of the accident. It must be shown that it was because of the driver’s intoxication that they crashed into another vehicle.
- Victim suffered damages. The victim must have sustained compensable losses and expenses. In an accident with a drunk driver, these can include medical and repair bills to cover the costs of treating injuries and fixing property damage.
The victim may first attempt to get financial recovery from the driver by filing a claim with the individual’s insurance. At this stage, the victim and their personal injury lawyer may have to negotiate with the carrier to obtain a just settlement.
However, if the victim and their attorney cannot come to an agreement with the insurance company, the injured party may take the case to court. A judge or jury will hear the matter and decide whether compensation should be awarded and the amount.
Other Avenues for Recovering Compensation
Depending on the situation, the victim may also seek financial recovery from the establishment that sold liquor to the drunk driver.
Under Missouri Revised Statute § 537.053, a person can file an action against an establishment if:
- The person who sold the liquor was a licensed seller,
- The liquor was sold to be consumed on the premises, and
- The seller knew that the person they sold the liquor to was visibly inebriated. This means that the person showed signs of intoxication, such as a significant lack of coordination or physical dysfunction.
The victim must prove these elements by clear and convincing evidence.
Have an Attorney Help with Your Case
Building a legal strategy to hold a drunk driver liable for an injury-causing or fatal accident requires knowledge of the laws and a great deal of research. Things can become incredibly complicated if the injured party is looking for just compensation by taking action against all responsible parties, including the establishment that sold the alcohol. When recovering from injuries, handling the details can be complicated. Fortunately, a lawyer can provide legal counsel at every stage.
At Bertram & Graf, L.L.C., our team in Kansas City delivers compassionate and personalized legal representation. Schedule a consultation by contacting us at (888) 398-2277.