Lawsuits Against Drunk Drivers: Civil vs. Criminal Proceedings

Impaired drivers who cause drunk driving accidents may face both criminal and civil court proceedings. 

  • Criminal proceedings are designed to punish the offender for breaking the law and to protect the public by acting as a deterrent against impaired driving. Driving drunk can result in criminal prosecution even if there was no accident and/or no one was injured.
  • Civil proceedings against an impaired driver typically come in the form of a claim or lawsuit against the drunk driver for injuries caused by the drunk driving collision.  Fatal drunk driving crashes can result in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of the victim.  In many cases a civil suit may be the only way to recover damages such as medical treatment costs, lost wages, damaged property, other economic damages and pain and suffering.

It's important to note that the criminal and civil sides of the legal system are completely separate and have no impact on one another. If you hire Davis Law Group to represent you after a collision with a drunk driver, the basis of our representing you is with regard to the civil personal injury claim. 

We cannot directly control a criminal prosecutor's decision to pursue criminal charges against a drunk driver, but we do often cooperate with prosecutors to provide evidence, victim impact statements, and more information relating to the case in hopes that the person who injured our client will be brought to justice. While we can never guarantee the outcome of any criminal investigation, we go above and beyond the level of service that you might expect to receive from any other personal injury law firm when it comes to drunk driving collision cases.

Damages Recoverable in a Drunk Driving Crash

In the state of Washington, regardless of who is at fault for an accident, an injured person can receive compensation for lost wages and medical expenses from their Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. The following is a list of damages recoverable after a drunk driving crash:

  • Medical expenses. Victims can have their medical bills paid for by the at-fault driver's insurance company.
  • Lost wages. If you missed time from work because of a drunk driving crash, you can be compensated for that work.
  • Loss of essential services. If you are unable to perform certain household or family duties because of your injuries, those services could be paid for.
  • Pain and suffering. Victims and their families are often in a great deal of emotional pain after a serious DUI crash.
  • Loss of consortium. If you or a family member has suffered a loss of a relationship or companion in a wreck, that could be part of the compensation package.
  • Property damage. Having your wrecked vehicle paid for is part of what you'll get back.
  • Out-of-pocket expenses. Victims usually rack up bills related to their DUI crash injuries. Keep a careful tally of those bills so they can be added to your final settlement.

Drunk Driving Laws In Washington State

Washington State law provides that the drivers on the road have the duty to not operate a motor vehicle when under the influence of alcohol. See RCW 46.61.502. A DUI arrest in Washington means license suspension, jail time, and up to $5,000 in fines and fees. You may be ordered to install and pay for a device (called an ignition interlock) that won’t allow your car to start if you have any alcohol in your system. The court can order you to pay for and attend alcohol or drug treatment.

Washington State Dram Shop Law

Dram shop laws make it possible for bar owners and alcohol servers to be held financially liable if a customer becomes obviously intoxicated on their premises and subsequently injures someone or causes property damage, typically by driving drunk. Washington State law forbids the selling of alcohol 'to any person apparently under the influence of liquor.’

RCW 66.44.200(1)

(1) No person shall sell any liquor to any person apparently under the influence of liquor.

(2)(a) No person who is apparently under the influence of liquor may purchase or consume liquor on any premises licensed by the board.

(b) A violation of this subsection is an infraction punishable by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars. 

(c) A defendant's intoxication may not be used as a defense in an action under this subsection.

(d) Until July 1, 2000, every establishment licensed under RCW 66.24.330 or 66.24.420 shall conspicuously post in the establishment notice of the prohibition against the purchase or consumption of liquor under this subsection. 

(3) An administrative action for violation of subsection (1) of this section and an infraction issued for violation of subsection (2) of this section arising out of the same incident are separate actions and the outcome of one shall not determine the outcome of the other. 

Washington State's 'Drive Hammered-Get Nailed' Program

drive hammered get nailedWashington State Patrol helps to enforce the Washington Traffic Safety Commission's "Drive Hammered-Get Nailed" campaign to catch drunk drivers.  This program puts many more DUI task forces out on Washington streets, roads, and highways throughout the state between mid-August and early September. The idea is to catch more drunk drivers during the days and weeks surrounding Labor Day weekend in order to stop the drunk driver before they do any damage to themselves or others.

Washington State DUI Crash Data

Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle collisions in Washington State. Forty-two percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes involve a driver that was under the influence of alcohol. Each year over 200 people in Washington state are killed in drunk driving crashes. There is a sharp increase in the number of drunk driving incidents near major holidays and during the summer months.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in the United States in 2010. This figure represents 31 percent of all traffic incident deaths. More than 500,000 Americans are injured in drunken driving crashes each year.

  • Fatal DUI Crashes - 123
  • Suspected Serious Injury Collisions - 364
  • Possible/Suspected Injury Collisions - 2,434
  • No Apparent Injury Incidents - 4,230
  • Total Alcohol Involved Crashes - 7,151

Free Legal Consultation For DUI Victims

The team of attorneys at Davis Law Group will review your potential case for free, and help you better understand your legal rights and options for pursuing a personal injury claim. If we believe we can improve the chances of a favorable outcome, our attorneys will meet with you for a free legal consultation to discuss your case in greater detail. 

We also work on a contingency fee basis, which means there are no up-front costs and you owe no attorney's fees until your case has been successfully resolved. Call our office in Seattle at (206) 727-4000 or use the confidential contact form on this page to have your case personally reviewed by our award-winning legal team.