Understanding the Differences Between a Drunk Driver’s DUI Case and Your Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Case in Pennsylvania

February 22, 2024

If you have been seriously injured or a loved one has tragically been killed by a drunk driver in Pennsylvania, you have clear legal rights. Not only can you file an insurance claim to hold the drunk driver financially accountable, but, depending on the circumstances involved, you could have other claims as well. In this situation, it is critical to ensure that you are making informed decisions, and this starts with understanding how drunk driving cases work in Pennsylvania.

Criminal DUI Charges vs. Civil Drunk Driving Liability

When a drunk driver causes a serious or fatal accident, he or she is likely to face two different types of legal cases. The first is the driver’s DUI case. Driving under the influence is a criminal offense in Pennsylvania, and after a drunk driver causes a serious or fatal accident, the driver will almost certainly face prosecution in Pennsylvania criminal court.

The second is the driver’s civil liability case. While criminal cases focus on punishment and rehabilitation, civil cases focus on compensating victims and their families for their accident-related losses. As a victim or family member, filing a civil case (with the help of a personal injury or wrongful death lawyer) is how you seek compensation for the financial and non-financial costs of the accident.

While the government will handle the drunk driver’s criminal case, it is up to you to initiate your civil case against the drunk driver. In most cases, the first step is to file a claim with the drunk driver’s insurance company. All drivers are required to have insurance in Pennsylvania, so the drunk driver should be covered. If your insurance claim leads to a settlement with the drunk driver’s insurance company, this will be the end of the process (unless you have other claims that you can file as well). But, if it doesn’t, you will need to work with your lawyer to file a civil lawsuit in court before the statute of limitations expires.

This distinction between the drunk driver’s criminal case and your civil case for damages is extremely important. If you do nothing, you won’t receive the financial compensation you and your family deserve. While the drunk driver may still end up paying fines and spending time in jail, you will be forced to bear the costs of the drunk driver’s mistake. To recover financial compensation for a drunk driving accident, you need to take action—and the first step is to speak with a lawyer who can help you.

Key Differences Between Criminal DUI Cases and Personal Injury/Wrongful Death Cases Involving Drunk Driving Accidents

There are several important differences between criminal DUI cases and civil cases involving drunk driving accidents in Pennsylvania. Whether you have a personal injury claim or you need to file a wrongful death claim to seek justice for a loved one’s untimely passing, here are some key facts you need to know:

It Is Up to You to Seek Just Compensation for Your Injuries or Your Loved One’s Death

We mentioned this already, but it bears repeating due to its importance: To seek just compensation for a drunk driving accident in Pennsylvania, you need to take legal action. Even if the drunk driver gets arrested and is facing criminal charges, you still need to work with a lawyer to assert your legal rights.

When you hire a lawyer to represent you, your lawyer will work quickly to gather the evidence needed to file a civil claim on your behalf. This includes evidence from the accident scene and from other sources. Along with gathering evidence that proves the accident was the drunk driver’s fault, your lawyer will also assess whether you may have any “third-party” claims for just compensation.

You Don’t Have To (and Should Not) Wait for the Drunk Driver’s Criminal Trial

Many people assume that they need to wait and see if the drunk driver is found guilty before they can file a claim. But this is not the case.

After a drunk driving accident, you can (and should) hire a lawyer to help you assert your legal rights as soon as possible. You can (and should) seek just compensation regardless of the outcome of the drunk driver’s criminal trial.

The standards of proof in criminal and civil cases are different. As a result, even if prosecutors are unable to prove the drunk driver’s guilt, your lawyer may still be able to establish civil liability. While prosecutors must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” your lawyer can establish civil liability by showing that the “preponderance of the evidence” demonstrates the drunk driver was to blame.

You May Have More Than One Civil Claim

While the drunk driver will likely be the only one to face criminal charges, you could have more than one civil claim after a drunk driving accident. For example, if you have auto insurance, you may be able to file a claim under your policy if the drunk driver’s coverage isn’t enough. If the drunk driver was out drinking at a bar or restaurant or was working at the time of the accident, this could entitle you to file a “third party” claim as well.

You Need Experienced Legal Representation to Seek Just Compensation After a Drunk Driving Accident  

While prosecutors will fight to hold the drunk driver criminally accountable, they are not responsible for helping you assert your legal rights. Instead, you must hire a lawyer to represent you. This costs nothing out of pocket. We handle personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency fee basis, which means you pay nothing unless we help you secure a settlement or verdict.  

Schedule a Free Consultation with a Pennsylvania Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer

If you need to know more about filing a claim after a serious or fatal drunk driving accident in Pennsylvania, we invite you to schedule a free consultation. To speak with an experienced lawyer about your legal rights as soon as possible, call us at 888-777-7098 or tell us how we can reach you online today.