A DUI is a serious allegation, and courtrooms do not take it lightly. If you’ve been harmed by a drunk driver, you may be concerned about what happens next. Perhaps the perpetrator faces criminal justice, but that may not help you recover the expenses associated with your injury. How can you also receive personal justice?
To understand how to proceed, it’s important to understand the difference between criminal and civil court.
CIVIL AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Criminal court holds people accountable for their crimes against society. To repay their debt, criminals are sentenced to community service, fines, jail, and so on.
To find someone guilty of a crime, the court must be 100% certain of the alleged criminal’s guilt, “beyond a reasonable doubt.” There is no room for error in criminal justice.
Civil court grants financial justice to people who were wrongfully injured. When someone sues another person, they want compensation for their injuries. This compensation is awarded in the form of “damages.”
In civil court, a plaintiff (the person suing the defendant) can win with a “preponderance of the evidence.” Essentially, the plaintiff’s claim must be more likely to be true than not. The court can be only 51% certain of the plaintiff’s accusations to rule in their favor.
Taking the above information into account, let’s look at how each courtroom handles who harmed you while driving drunk.
CRIMINAL DUI PENALTIES
If someone is found guilty of drunk driving in criminal court, they can be charged with a misdemeanor. For a first offense, the penalty in Oklahoma is up to one year in jail with possible fines of up to $1,000.
As a person is arrested for a second offense, the penalties become more severe. No longer a misdemeanor, the crime becomes a felony. A second guilty verdict can land the offender in prison for one to five years. They could also be fined up to $2,500.
A third conviction can be penalized by one to ten years in prison with fines as high as $5,000.
If a drunk driver harms another citizen, they may face felony charges with severe penalties. For some victims of this crime, this sentence is enough. They are satisfied when the offender is found guilty and serves time.
CIVIL DUI PENALTIES
For others, however, criminal justice may not be enough. While recovering from an injury, they may find themselves in a financial bind from which they cannot recover. This is where civil justice comes in.
There is a common misconception that people file lawsuits to get rich quickly. In reality, civil justice is designed to compensate your expenses. Philosophically, the system believes that since you were not responsible for the injury, you should not be expected to also suffer financially.
In a civil lawsuit, you can be reimbursed for your medical expenses. This includes any treatment related to your injury, from doctor visits to prescriptions. If you are severely injured, you can have any surgeries or rehabilitations covered. You may also receive damages for future treatment, depending on the nature of your injury.
You can also receive damages for your lost income. As we recover from harm, we often miss work. Many of us are blessed to have sick time and personal days, but some people aren’t. Any work they miss results in a direct financial loss. Even people with sick time can exhaust it in a long recovery, resulting in non-paid time off.
Sometimes, an injury changes your entire career trajectory. You may lose your big promotion to another worker, as you are unable to take the job. If you suffer a catastrophic injury, you could be incapable of performing your prior job at all. Imagine, for example, a pianist who loses the use of their hand. In such cases, you are not only directly losing income, but you are also losing potential, future income. This loss of potential income can be included in your damages.
You may also be eligible for “non-economic” damages, typically in the form of pain and suffering damages. The process is complicated, but essentially, your attorney calculates an amount of money to help compensate you for the days you were in pain. The worse the injury, the more pain and suffering damages you can receive.
Lastly, you could receive punitive damages. When a defendant has been egregiously careless to the point of willfully endangering others, the court may see fit to punish them. Since it cannot put the offender in jail, it punishes them financially, forcing them to pay even more damages. In a case involving a DUI, punitive damages may be appropriate.
WHAT IF THE OFFENDER ALREADY STOOD TRIAL?
You can justifiably sue anyone who harmed you, regardless of their criminal status. Whether they were arrested, let go, tried, exonerated, or sentenced does not matter. If you were hurt by their negligent behavior, you have the right to seek financial justice.
Hurt by a drunk driver? Reach out to our office today for a free consultation. We may be able to take on your case and help you seek compensation. Our number is 918-492-7674, and you can contact us online.