DUI, Civil, & Criminal Cases: What the difference?

Being a victim of a drunk driving accident is traumatic and can leave you feeling wronged. But even worse than that are the financial burdens you can face from being the victim of a drunk driving accident.

As medical bills, missed work, and pain and suffering keep stretching your finances further and further, you might be wondering if you can bring a lawsuit against a drunk driver. After all, drunk driving is illegal, right? So the state will prosecute that driver and will already have an outstanding court case against them.

A criminal case and a civil case are two very different things. Even if there is a drunk driving criminal case against the drunk driver, you can still bring a civil case against them to seek damages from the person responsible.

A Virginia car accident attorney is the best way to know if you have a strong case or not so you should seek counsel if you’re unsure. Plus, a car accident attorney can guide you in negotiations to settle outside of court if the circumstances are right for your case.

As you work to understand the nuances of drunk driving cases, here’s a definition of a civil lawsuit vs. a criminal case.

Civil lawsuit

A civil lawsuit is when one person or company sues another person or company to solve a dispute between the two parties. Each side of the lawsuit is permitted to bring forth evidence and testimony to prove their case. In cases where the court finds the lawsuit to be based on valid facts, the party that was sued is ordered to pay out a certain amount of money that the court deems is appropriate compensation for the victim.

One of the key differences between a civil and a criminal case is that in civil cases, no one goes to jail no matter the result. Civil cases can cover a wide variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to:

  • Financial matters
  • Property disputes
  • Housing issues
  • Injuries (which is where a car accident or other personal injury comes into play)
  • Family matters, such as divorce or child custody
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Medical benefits
  • Discrimination 

Criminal case

In a criminal case, the government is putting someone on trial for breaking the law in some fashion. Drunk driving accidents disobey the law in the sense that a person operating a vehicle must be of sound mind and body when they operate a vehicle.

Should a person decide to operate a vehicle anyway, even though alcohol is inhibiting their reflexes or other body functions, they are committing a crime. In criminal cases, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person on trial committed the crime.

The defendant can also present evidence showing their innocence during the court case. The result of a criminal case is quite different from the result of a civil case as it is not about financials, though there might be fines or fees associated with criminal cases.

Criminal cases can result in the courts finding the defendant not guilty of the crime, in which case they can simply go about their life, or guilty of the crime where they could face jail time, fines, counseling and probation. In the case of drunk driving, the courts might also revoke their driver’s license for up to a year.

Working with a personal injury attorney

Drunk drivers knowingly and willingly get behind the wheel of a car when they have had too much to drink. That driver’s poor judgement can have lasting effects for the victim or victims that they harm with their poor decision-making.

When pursuing damages from the drunk driver, you’ll likely have your counsel speak with counsel for the drunk driver’s insurance company. Insurance companies are motivated to settle claims quickly and outside of court, but trust your attorney in knowing the proper amount to settle for or whether court is the right move for you.

Some civil cases never land in a courtroom for this reason and that can be good for the victims. In these cases, victims don’t have to publicly relive the traumatizing circumstances or delay receiving payment to reimburse their many bills related to the accident.

At Gore & Kuperman, we’ve worked with countless victims of drunk driving. We’re prepared to work with you to receive the best result possible for your case. We won’t settle without ensuring that it’s what’s best for you. Our team of experts will build a case to ensure the best possible outcome. We’d be happy to serve you. Contact us at 703-385-7300.


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