Can You Sue a Drunk Driver Who Was Already Arrested?
Criminal DUI Cases
The U.S. justice system has three levels of criminal activity: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Minor crimes are infractions, punishable by small fines or citations. Misdemeanors are more serious. They show up on criminal records, and they are punishable by heavy fines and jail time. The most severe crimes are felonies, where truly egregious actions can lead to lifetime prison sentences.
In the state of Oklahoma, DUI charges start as misdemeanors. People charged with this crime lose their license for a bit, get fined, and may find themselves in jail for a time. Offenders who are arrested for a DUI again and again will see the penalties start to rise. Fines get heavier, jail time gets longer, and charges can eventually become felonies. People can have their licenses revoked for years or even permanently.
When a drunk driving accident leads to an injury or a death, the perpetrator is likely already facing incarceration. The evidence has proven their guilt, and the state won’t punish something that severe with minor fines. This is important to keep in mind, as it could help in a civil case later.
Civil DUI Cases
Civil lawsuits are not a criminal matter. People who are found guilty in civil court don’t go to jail and don’t have the judgment on their record. Civil suits are about money. When you’ve been hurt by someone else’s bad behavior, you can take them to court to recover damages.
Damages are a form of compensation. You are trying to recover money for your troubles. Your injury may have resulted in medical bills, lost wages, and lost future earnings. When you are suing someone in civil court, you’re asking the justice system to make the defendant pay for the trouble they caused. Because this is separate from any criminal charges they may face, you may still sue them, even if they are already serving criminal sentences.
Compensation can also take the form of “pain and suffering” damages. No amount of money can take away your pain, but a substantial reward from the defendant can make your day-to-day life easier as you recover.
Challenges of Suing Someone in Jail
Suing anyone who is already serving time comes with unique challenges. First of all, it may be difficult to get them to appear in court. Their freedom is under tight restrictions and subject to the state. They will have to request the freedom to appear in court, which can be a long process. The state may not grant this freedom or may delay it, which will cause you and your legal team to have to work just to get the lawsuit going.
Transfers are the next problem. Incarcerated people get moved around, and keeping up with those logistics becomes an ordeal. Your lawyers are filing the lawsuit; they are working to get the defendant in court; and now they may need to start over if the incarcerated moved to a new location.
The final challenge is deciding if the lawsuit is worth it. The drunk driver is already facing their sentence, so justice is being done. Ideally, a personal injury suit is about being compensated, not about punishing the offender. The real question becomes: Are you likely to be compensated? This person is already in jail. They don’t have any income. Unless they were well off when they got arrested, how will they pay your damages?
Even if they aren’t incarcerated, their financial situation has likely been impacted by a DUI charge. Losing their license is making life harder and costing them more money to get around. Some employers demand that you report a DUI to them, so this person may have already lost their job. Before pursuing damages from anyone, it’s good to get an idea of how likely it is that they can pay those damages. Being broke and jobless can make someone invulnerable to judgment in a civil case.
Advantages to Suing Someone in Jail
The good news is, if someone is in prison or jail for hitting you while drunk, there is already a good amount of evidence against them. The legal system concluded that, beyond a reasonable doubt, they should be punished. Therefore, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you and your legal team to convince a civil court of that same guilt. If the defendant has the means to pay the damages, they are likely to.
If you’ve been hurt by a drunk driver, contact us today. We can help you seek damages, even when the offender is busy facing criminal charges. We can discuss your options with a free consultation. Call (918) 347-6456 or contact us online now.