Understanding Civil Liability for Drunk Drivers

On Behalf of | Feb 16, 2015 | Car Accidents

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a criminal offense in Florida. Drunk drivers can lose their license and go to jail, even in the absence of injuries.

But drunk drivers aren’t just on the hook for the criminal offense. Florida imposes civil liability on DUI drivers too. We explain those liability rules (in general) below.

Criminal vs. Civil Liability for DUI Drivers in Florida

Anyone injured by a drunk driver in Florida can file a personal injury lawsuit against that driver. This civil proceeding is distinct from the criminal trial.

Whereas criminal DUI charges are based on the defendant’s violation of criminal law, the personal injury case is based on the defendant’s negligence.

Negligence isn’t a “crime,” but the defendant is nevertheless legally responsible for the consequences of his or her irresponsible action. To honor that responsibility, the defendant is ordered to pay the victim back for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Hospital bills
  • Time away from work
  • Diminished physical or mental capacity
  • Other pain and suffering

Most importantly a negligent motorist that operates a vehicle under the influence and causes an injury is subject to punitive damages.  These damages are meant to punish the defendant.  Punitive damages are not covered under an insurance policy, and the negligent defendant will have to pay these damages out of his/her pocket

If the victim dies, the drunk driver then has a civil responsibility to pay the victim’s close family members for their own suffering related to the loss. This is known as wrongful death (also a civil lawsuit).

It is important to understand that victims can still win a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit even if the criminal charges are dismissed. The two proceedings are entirely separate.

Dram Shop Liability & Social Host Liability in Florida

In addition to suing the driver, DUI victims may also have a case against the parties responsible for giving the driver too much to drink in the first place. This is sometimes referred to as “dram shop liability” or “social host liability.”

Florida’s dram shop law is a little different than some other states’. Here, a person may be liable for DUI-related damages only if they provide alcohol to a youth under the age of 21 or to someone who is a known alcoholic/addict.

Injured by a Drunk Driver in Florida? Contact an Attorney.

To get help with your personal injury or wrongful death claim, please contact our office right away. You can schedule a free and convenient consultation with an experienced injury attorney in order to learn more about your case and the time limits that might apply. We’re here for you.

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Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 30 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for many years.