In Louisiana, if you get convicted of Driving While Intoxicated, your conviction could carry great weight in a pending civil suit. Consider the fact pattern that follows for a common scenario in drunk-driving cases. Drunk Driver A gets into a car accident with Driver B. While being drunk does not necessarily mean that a driver is at fault in a car accident case, assume in this hypothetical that Driver A is not only drunk but is also at fault in this car accident with the accident having been caused by intoxication. Driver A is prosecuted in criminal court for DWI. Driver A is convicted of Driving While Intoxicated First Offense under La. R.S. 14:98, a misdemeanor in Louisiana. Driver B was hurt from the accident and brings a civil lawsuit against Driver A for property damage and personal injury damage. What impact will Driver A’s conviction have on the lawsuit?
Multiple consequences could flow from a conviction against Driver A. Perhaps the most obvious consequence is that a conviction against Driver A could be used against him or her in civil court in the pending lawsuit. Now, in criminal court, a prosecutor does not need to show that a car accident occurred to obtain a conviction for Driving While Intoxicated. A prosecutor need only show that the driver was operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol (and/or drugs). Louisiana courts have interpreted the language “under the influence” to mean having one’s ability to operate a vehicle be impaired by the alcohol (and/or drugs) in one’s system at the time of operation. In criminal court, the burden of legal proof is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden is the highest burden existing within our legal system and necessarily so. Before the government can strip a person of liberty, our society demands that the evidence brought to bear against an individual be overwhelming and enough to firmly convince a judge or jury of guilt. In our civil system, by contrast, the burden of proof is much lower: proof by a preponderance of the evidence. This legal standard means that if there is more evidence proving fault than there is evidence not proving fault for an accident, the burden of proof is satisfied. The evidence need not be overwhelming nor firmly convince the trier of fact. As long as even a slim majority (i.e., more than 50%) of the evidence weighs in favor of fault, the civil burden can be met even if the trier of fact may have some doubts about the case. Thus, a conviction in criminal court for which the evidence had to be overwhelming leads to the inference that there is plenty of evidence to prove intoxication of Driver A in our hypothetical. Will this evidence of intoxication be enough to show fault for an accident in a secondary civil case? If the intoxication caused Driver A to get into an accident, by using the evidence brought in the criminal trial against Driver A, a civil lawyer should be able to easily prove fault on the part of Driver A in the secondary civil case.
Many other consequences flow from a criminal conviction against Driver A in this hypothetical. For example, Driver A could have punitive damages awarded in favor of Driver B since intoxication led to the accident. Punitive damages could substantially increase the monetary award of Driver B beyond what Driver B would otherwise ordinarily receive. Additionally, for example, a criminal conviction against Driver A could leave Driver A’s civil lawyer no choice but to recommend a settlement of the pending personal injury case rather than go to trial in civil court. Thus, Driver A’s strategic options in fighting the civil suit could be severely curtailed by a criminal conviction.
Given these possible consequences as well as many other consequences that could arise, it’s very helpful to seek legal counsel If you or someone you know needs criminal law help in fighting a pending criminal charge of Driving While Intoxicated, help in fighting a pending civil suit flowing from a drunk-driving case, or help in prosecuting a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver who caused an injury to you. Our firm is able to help in these situations and provide detailed, strategic, and compassionate advice.