DWI Penalties in Civil Cases
In addition to fairly severe criminal penalties that can result from a DWI conviction, there are separate and expensive civil penalties that may result as well if you cause an accident with injury. Someone who is injured or has a family member who is killed as the result of a drunk driver can sue you in civil court under negligence or tort law. Not only may someone who sues in civil court be entitled to compensatory damages (property damage, medical bills, lost time from work, permanent disability), but they may also be able to collect punitive damages in certain cases. Punitive damages are an award beyond compensatory damages that in essence seek to punish the offending party. These damages are typically determined by a jury, and in cases which a drunk driver is involved, the assessment of such damages tends to be higher because of the inherent dangers perceived in the minds of the public regarding drunk driving. Truly drunk drivers seriously injure and kill other drivers on the road every year. It is precisely this public safety issue that largely drives the passing of ever stricter DWI laws around the country. There are many examples of horrific crashes caused by impaired drivers, and consequently, large civil verdicts that attempt to make victims whole. Unfortunately, large verdicts are not always collectible given the limited insurance available. And, it should be noted that even relatively mild impairment is still aggressively portrayed as being “drunk” and dangerous. In these situations, every driver who has had a drink before getting on the road is depicted in the same light. Their only response is degree of impairment. Don’t let this happen to you.
It is a strange contradiction in our society. We still celebrate and promote alcohol throughout every medium. Cities promote bars and night life. They revitalize their downtown areas with new restaurants and sporting venues, all of which eagerly sell alcohol given the high profit margins. Here in Charlotte, we now have every major sports team all within a few miles of each other. Downtown Charlotte is now alive every night and weekend even after all of the bankers and lawyers go home after work. Drinks and beer are expensive but are everywhere. Even when the city closes Tryon Street for festivals, alcohol vendors are out in force all pushing beers and mixed drink sales. The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department is also out in force. They are in cars, motorcycles, bicycles and on foot watching for people who may have too much to drink. The city also invested in a mobile DWI testing vehicle which is regularly used as part of checkpoints set up for DWI arrests. Certainly, everyone has a choice to call a cab, take the light rail, or have a sober friend drive them home. But, the circle of life, or DWI promotion and prosecution, cannot be discounted. Just be aware that a fun evening on the town can quickly turn into a horrible night in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Jail.
Be Safe. Get Home.