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Are There Civil Penalties for DUI?

Driving while drunk has stiff penalties in California. Losing your license, jail time, fines, and a mark on your criminal record are all potential consequences when you are convicted of DUI. The more times you are convicted, the more (and more severe) penalties you face.

Criminal convictions and their associated real and personal costs are not the only ones you might pay. Civil lawsuits can also take a bite out of your wallet.

To defend yourself against criminal charges (and then indirectly potential civil lawsuits), you need to call an attorney experienced with defending those accused of DUI. Contact Corrigan Welbourn Stokke at (949) 251-0330 right away to discuss your case.

Who Can Be Sued in Civil Court for a DUI Accident?

There are two potential categories of people who can be sued when a DUI accident causes someone else to be injured or incur property damage: the person driving drunk and the person who served them (with some important caveats).

Civil Liability of the Drunk Driver

When a person is convicted of a DUI criminal violation, they are opening themselves up for lawsuits if an injury or property damage occurs. For anyone to be sued, there must be real loss.

A person injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver can sue for the following damages:

  • Economic Damages: Lost wages, medical bills, physical therapy, medication costs, out-of-pocket expenses
  • Non-Economic Damages: Pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship
  • Punitive Damages: The plaintiff must prove malice, meaning they had a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.

Unlike other states, California has no caps on either compensatory (economic and non-economic) or punitive damages for DUI lawsuits. In addition to the person injured, members of their family can also sue the impaired driver for loss of consortium. In accidents resulting in loss of life, family members can sue for wrongful death or bring a survival action.

Civil Liability of the Person Serving Alcohol

Some states have dram shop laws that allow injured parties to sue third parties, like the bar that continued to serve a drunk patron. California’s dram shop laws significantly limit someone’s ability to sue the person who served alcohol.

Exceptions that can hold an alcohol provider liable include the following:

  • A parent or guardian knowingly furnishes alcohol at their residence to a minor (minor later causes an accident). The host can be liable for damages to the minor and anyone else injured.
  • A bar, restaurant, or similar establishment can be sued if it serves alcohol to an “obviously intoxicated” minor. The establishment can be liable for injuries or death caused by the intoxicated minor.

When a lawsuit is viable, damages can be sought for physical injuries and property damage. The dram shop law does not absolve the establishment of potential criminal responsibility. Serving an obviously intoxicated person is a misdemeanor in California.

Strategic DUI Defense in Orange County

There is a sports saying that the best offense is a good defense. We couldn’t agree more at Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC. If you have been pulled over for suspected DUI or involved in a DUI car accident, contact us as soon as possible to protect your rights.

Stakes are high in all DUI cases but become exponentially more significant if there is an accident, a loss of life, or you have an extremely high blood alcohol content. In addition to potential criminal and civil penalties, a DUI conviction will impact your ability to get a job, be accepted into a school, obtain housing, and qualify for financial aid.

We will work aggressively to fight the charges in an effort to get them dropped, dismissed, or reduced. Our lawyers have more than 100 years of collective experience in defending against all kinds of criminal charges in the Orange County area.

Contact us for a free initial consultation. We are available 24/7 at (949) 251-0330. You also can contact us through our online form.