Jail isn’t the only liability for a drunk driver who causes an injury accident in Missouri. Missouri personal injury law allows you to file a lawsuit against the driver (and by extension, his liability insurance carrier) for damages arising from the drunk driving accident. A civil lawsuit against a drunk driver is a separate legal proceeding from a criminal prosecution.
“A drunk driver can seriously injure or kill an innocent victim in an instant,” states Missouri injury lawyer Spencer Farris. “Drunk driving accident lawsuits are some of the most important cases that we handle and we do everything we can to obtain justice for the victim and his family including pursuing claims against the restaurant or bar that served the alcohol.”
Suing the Driver
If a drunken driver caused an accident that injured you, you may file a lawsuit against him in civil court. If you can establish the driver was drunk, and that his drunkenness caused the accident, you are likely to win the case, either in court or at the settlement table.
There is no need to rely on a criminal conviction for DUI to win a personal injury lawsuit against a drunk driver, although a criminal conviction will certainly help. Because of the lower burden of proof that applies to personal injury claims, you can win a personal injury lawsuit against a drunk driver even if he was acquitted in criminal court or plea-bargained his way into conviction for a lesser offense.
Collecting from an Uninsured Driver
Actually obtaining the money from the driver after a successful lawsuit might turn out to be the most difficult aspect of your case, if the driver was uninsured at the time of the accident and if he lacks the financial resources to pay the judgment himself. Since a driver cannot discharge a personal injury judgment in bankruptcy, however, don’t be fooled if the driver threatens to file for bankruptcy as a negotiating ploy.
Collecting from Insurance Carriers
In most cases, your options for recovery of personal injury damages from an insurance carrier are as follows:
- Collect the judgment from the driver’s liability insurance carrier. In Missouri all drivers are required to carry liability insurance covering at least $25,000 in damages per person and $50,000 per accident. The potential problem here is that the insurance company may deny coverage for a drunk driving accident as an “intentional” injury, based on the language of its policy.
- Collect the judgment from your own uninsured motorist policy. Missouri requires drivers to carry uninsured motorist coverage of $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident. This policy can be used as a primary source of funding, or as secondary source once the driver’s liability insurance policy limits have been reached. Uninsured motorist policies typically do cover DUI accidents.
You need to investigate the financial resources of potential defendants before you file a lawsuit. If you conclude that the driver and/or the applicable insurance policies cannot fully satisfy the amount of your anticipated recovery, you will need to find a “deep pocket” defendant who can pay the remainder of your judgment or settlement. Depending on the facts of your case, you may be able to sue one of the following defendants (in the same lawsuit as the lawsuit against the driver):
- A “dram shop”: Missouri’s “dram shop law “allows you to sue an establishment that served alcohol to the driver prior to the accident, if he was already visibly intoxicated at the time he was served. It is relatively difficult to prove liability under the dram shop law, however, and liquor stores are exempt from liability.
- The driver’s employer: The driver’s employer may be held liable if the driver was acting in the course of employment at the time of the accident, regardless of whether or not the employer was personally at fault. In many cases, proving that the driver was on-duty at the time of the accident is virtually all you need to prove to establish liability.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
If the victim died in the accident, Missouri allows close relatives (and in some cases, the executor of the victim’s estate) to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsibly party or parties. Damages in a successful wrongful death lawsuit can include the psychological trauma and loss of financial support suffered by the relatives.
Since many potential pitfalls await an accident victim who attempts to assert a personal injury claim against a drunk driver who caused the accident, securing the services of an experienced personal injury lawyer can be critically important.