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Civil Drunk Driving Lawsuits vs. Criminal DUI Cases

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An impaired driver can cause a lot of damage on the road. Alcohol can make it difficult to make sound decisions, maintain control over a vehicle, or remain awake and alert. As a result, driving under the influence (DUI) is taken very seriously under Washington law, and offenders can face serious consequences.

A drunk driver can face both criminal penalties and a civil lawsuit after causing a serious accident. Criminal charges are filed by the state and can result in penalties like fines and jail time. On the other hand, a civil lawsuit is filed by the victim to seek damages for any losses caused by the collision.

What Is a Civil DUI Lawsuit?

A civil lawsuit is a claim that allows victims who suffered a personal injury to recover financial compensation for any losses that they experienced. A personal injury can arise as a result of an accident, an act of professional malpractice, an intentional act, or a crime—like drunk driving. 

By filing a civil drunk driving lawsuit, the victim would be eligible to claim a settlement for any of the following damages:

  • Past and future medical expenses for any injuries sustained in the accident
  • Lost wages and loss of future earnings that occur as a result of the accident
  • Property damage sustained in the crash, including vehicle repairs
  • Pain and suffering, such as permanent disability, emotional distress, and mental anguish
  • Funeral and burial expenses, in the case of wrongful death

A victim can pursue a civil lawsuit even if there are criminal charges filed against the defendant for the same offense.

What Is a Criminal DUI Case?

In Washington, DUI is a serious crime that is punishable by fines and prison time. Most of these offenses are charged as gross misdemeanors, except in cases with for or more prior offenses within 10 years or a prior vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, or felony DUI conviction. These crimes are charged as felonies.

Depending on the number of previous offenses, a drunk driver could face any of the following penalties:

  • First Offense DUI: Between 24 hours to 363 days in prison and between $823 to $5,000 in fines
  • Second Offense DUI: Between 30 to 364 days in prison and between $1,015 to $5,000 in fines
  • Third and Subsequent Offense DUI: Between 90 to 364 days in prison and between $1,805 to $5,000 in fines

In addition, defendants could face a license suspension and mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device. The state may also mandate a drug and alcohol assessment and place the defendant on probation.

Arrested for a DUI? Speak to an Attorney

If you are facing a DUI conviction, it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney can protect your rights during the process and work aggressively to help get the charges reduced or dismissed.

The victim may also choose to file a civil lawsuit against you for the drunk driving incident. In this situation, a personal injury defense attorney can represent your side of the story and protect your financial assets. Before a personal injury lawsuit is filed, however, you will likely face criminal charges for DUI. 

To protect your freedom, your first step should be to speak with a Tacoma criminal defense attorney who can represent your case. Speak to a lawyer immediately following your arrest to plan your next steps.

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