drunk driver with bottle of liquor in his handHundreds of people die in drunk driving accidents in South Carolina each year, and thousands more suffer serious injuries. If you’ve been injured in a car accident with a drunk driver, you may be entitled to compensation, but you will have to file a personal injury claim to recover financial damages from the drunk driver.

Criminal Charges Versus Civil Cases

Civil cases and criminal cases serve two different purposes. If a police officer arrests someone for driving under the influence, that is a criminal charge. The criminal courts will then prosecute the case to determine whether the person is guilty of breaking the law. The purpose is to punish wrongdoing. If the driver is found guilty, they could be sentenced to serve jail time, pay hefty fines, and lose their driving privileges. However, the victims who were harmed by the drunk driver will not be compensated as a result of a criminal trial.

If victims or their survivors want to recover damages, they have to take their own action with a civil case. Along with their lawyer, they may start by negotiating with the car insurance companies. If they can’t agree on a settlement amount, then the case may escalate to a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. The purpose of the lawsuit for the plaintiff is to seek compensation.

When to Pursue Legal Action

After a car accident with a drunk driver, one of the first things you should do is to call your personal injury attorney. Even if you never file a civil lawsuit against the other driver, a skilled lawyer is a valuable resource.

Your lawyer can advocate for you, fighting for the compensation you deserve. If the insurance company refuses to settle on a fair amount, you can sue the other driver for damages. Generally, the statute of limitations in South Carolina is three years. This means you must launch the lawsuit within three years of the car accident.

Even if the driver is acquitted of criminal DUI charges, you can still pursue a civil case. In criminal cases, prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, you only need a “preponderance of the evidence.” The plaintiff only needs to show there is more than a 50 percent chance the claim is true. The judge or jury will then determine the size of the settlement.

Seeking Compensation and Recovering Damages

It’s worth stating again that victims of drunk driving accidents do not recover damages even if the state wins its criminal case. A civil case is needed. The civil suit may use some of the same evidence. Your lawyer may request police reports and the results of the blood alcohol test, for example. But, the outcome of the civil case is independent of the criminal case.

The victim may seek to recover damages to make up for:

  • Current medical bills
  • Expected future medical expenses
  • Current lost wages
  • Loss in future earning potential
  • Property repair or replacement
  • Pain and suffering
  • Funeral and burial costs in the case of wrongful death

Why Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been involved in a car accident with a drunk driver, consult with your lawyer to find out what compensation you may be eligible to receive. Whether or not the other driver is ultimately convicted of a DUI is a separate concern. A personal injury attorney can assess your case and recommend the best course of action.

Your lawyer will also assist in gathering and preserving evidence. This may include medical records, photographs of the accident, receipts from medical bills, and eyewitness testimony. This evidence is valuable when negotiating with insurance companies. If it comes to it, your lawyer will file suit against the drunk driver's insurance company and continue to build your case to present in court. The skilled litigators at Pracht Injury Lawyers will be on your side from the day of your accident to the resolution of your case.

Christopher Pracht
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Christopher Pracht is an experienced attorney at Pracht Injury Lawyers.
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