Whose Fault Is It?
DUI cases are handled in criminal courts. But sometimes DUI cases involve claims in the civil court as well, specifically personal injury claims. If someone harmed someone else while driving impaired, he or she could potentially be held liable in a civil suit. This means he or she would have to compensate the person harmed for damages. DUI cases involving accidents and property damage can trigger personal injury claims as well. In these cases, California's dram shop law may be applicable. The dram shop law can hold a third party liable. Let's take a look at the specific circumstances under which a third party may be found liable for personal injury and how dram shop laws can affect a criminal case.
Holding Establishments Responsible
Dram shop laws state a bar owner or social host who negligently serves alcohol to someone who is impaired can be held liable if the patron then left the establishment and harmed someone. Most of these cases involve car accidents caused by impaired driving.
Even if a third party is found liable, the impaired driver doesn't necessarily get off free. It's possible for multiple parties to be found liable, meaning they would each be responsible for compensating the victim. But defendants who cause a motor vehicle accident and harm someone could not only face civil liability, they could face a harsher criminal sentence as well.
A Look at DUI Causing Injury
To be found guilty of DUI causing injury in California, the prosecution must prove your unlawful act of driving while impaired injured another person. In other words, your driving was the proximate cause of someone else's injury.
To do this, the prosecuting attorney must prove the standard elements for a DUI case; you were driving while impaired and/or had a BAC of .08% or higher.
He or she must also prove you broke another law while driving impaired or acted negligently and your behavior injured the victim(s). Here is where a civil matter involving a dram shop law can affect your criminal case. The prosecution must prove you either broke a law (e.g. were speeding) or acted in a negligent manner. If you had been negligently served alcohol by a bar and then drove impaired and injured someone, that fact could be used in your defense. The bar owner's negligence is a mitigating factor which can lessen the seriousness of your actions.
Now, another liable party—like a bar—in your civil suit doesn't necessarily mean you won't face DUI causing injury charges. If you had broken a law or were acting grossly negligent, you may face both civil and criminal liability. It's important to understand how your civil case can influence your criminal case. Sometimes people unknowingly pay their traffic ticket for causing an accident or admit their liability to the insurance company thinking that claim is completely separate from their criminal case. In reality, admitting guilt to the traffic court or an insurance company can be held against you in your criminal case. Sometimes, it is enough to convict you.
DUI causing injury can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the facts and circumstances of the rime and your prior criminal history. DUI causing injury is typically a felony charge if it is your third offense or you caused great bodily injury.
Whenever facing DUI charges with an accident involved, you should talk to an experienced California DUI defense attorney. An attorney can explain how the accident will affect your charge and the penalties the court will impose if you are convicted. An attorney can also advise you on how to handle your civil case or personal injury claim, the results of which could influence your DUI case. For example, defendants facing DUI charges and a personal injury claim may be advised to fight the personal injury claim and deny liability. In a criminal court, an admission of liability in a personal injury claim could result in a guilty verdict. Thus, always work closely with a California DUI defense attorney who has handled DUI cases involving accidents.
If you are in the Tulare, Fresno or Kings County area and have questions about DUI laws, call experienced DUI defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can help you defend your rights and move on with your life. Attorney Martens has over ten years of criminal defense experience and will fight hard for your rights. Contact our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.