Being hit by a drunk driver can cause severe injuries, total your car, and create a huge disruption in your life. Not only can you pursue justice in civil court, but the defendant might also face criminal charges.
A conviction against the drunk driver might help you in your civil lawsuit. The conviction might be used as evidence in your case and help you secure punitive damages in addition to your economic and non-economic compensatory damages. One thing to be mindful of in this situation is time. Your civil lawsuit might be put on hold while criminal proceedings are pending against the drunk driver. As such, you might risk running afoul of the statute of limitations. On the flip side, waiting for the criminal trial to finish allows you and your lawyer to spend more time preparing the case, gathering evidence, and developing strategies. You can still file your lawsuit even if the defendant is not charged or conviction of the DUI.
Our Georgia car accident lawyers can help you prepare your case while criminal charges are pending against the drunk driver who hit you. For a free case evaluation, call Howe Law at (844) 876-4357.
How a Drunk Driver’s Conviction Might Help You Georgia Car Accident Case
A conviction against the defendant for a DUI or another criminal offense related to the crash provides you with additional evidence and might help you secure additional damages. Our Georgia car accident attorneys can help you use a conviction to your advantage in the courtroom.
If the drunk driver is criminally convicted, you can use the conviction against them in a civil lawsuit for the accident. According to O.C.G.A. § 24-8-803(22), while technically hearsay evidence, the conviction itself is still admissible in court. Under this rule, the conviction must be for a crime punishable by death or incarceration of more than 1 year. Depending on the circumstances, DUIs may be punishable by more than 1 year in prison. Additionally, the defendant must have been found guilty by a judge or jury or entered a guilty plea. A nolo contendere (no contest) plea is inadmissible.
Other aspects of the criminal trial might also be useful in your civil case. For example, you can use testimony provided by the defendant in the criminal trial to refute inconsistent statements made by the defendant in your civil trial. This often comes up when the defendant admits certain facts in their criminal hearing but makes contradictory statements in your civil trial. Using prior inconsistent statements against the defendant might not prove liability, but it makes them appear less reliable to a jury.
Having a conviction is helpful, especially when there is little other evidence that the driver was under the influence of alcohol. For example, if the defendant refused to submit to mandatory chemical testing after arrest, there might not be any BAC test results to use as evidence. In that case, we might rely more heavily on the conviction as evidence in your civil lawsuit that the defendant was drunk when they hit you.
A conviction against the defendant might help you secure damages beyond compensatory damages. Punitive damages might be on the table if the defendant was driving under the influence when they hit you.
The defendant’s behavior must be especially egregious for a court to award punitive damages. According to O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b), punitive damages might be awarded if our Georgia car accident lawyers can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s behavior amounted to malice, fraud, willful misconduct, oppression, wantonness, or a lack of care that raises a presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.
Typical car accidents in which both drivers are sober might not meet the criteria for punitive damages. But if the driver who caused the crash was drunk, our Atlanta car accident lawyers can argue that their behavior warrants punitive damages.
Additionally, under the law, punitive damages are not capped in cases where the defendant injured the plaintiff while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances, and your award could be very significant. Bear in mind that 75% of punitive damages awards are paid into the state treasury.
When to File a Car Accident Lawsuit While Waiting for a Drunk Driving Conviction in Georgia
One of the biggest drawbacks of waiting for a verdict is losing precious time. Evidence might be lost, witnesses might move away, and the deadline to file the case gets closer. Under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33, the statute of limitations in many personal injury cases is only 2 years. If this deadline passes while we wait for criminal hearings to finish, we might be out of luck.
Fortunately, under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-99, the ordinary statute of limitations for a civil action may be tolled beginning when the cause of action arose until criminal prosecution is complete or terminated. If it takes a year to prosecute the defendant, that year does not count against your time to file a civil lawsuit. However, the law also states that the case cannot be brought any later than 6 years, and tricky cases can be time-consuming, so we should still be mindful of time.
Waiting for a criminal conviction might help your case. Our Macon car accident attorneys might have more time to prepare, gather evidence before it is lost, and work on getting the statute of limitations tolled.
Can I File a Car Accident Lawsuit in Georgia if the Drunk Driver is Not Convicted?
Even if the drunk driver is not convicted, you can still file a civil lawsuit. Plea bargains are common in the criminal justice system, and the defendant might agree to plead guilty to lesser charges. Alternatively, the defendant might have had their charges dropped or dismissed, or perhaps they were never charged to begin with.
The outcome of the criminal trial does not affect your civil lawsuit. Many plaintiffs have won civil car accident lawsuits without a criminal conviction against the defendant. There may still be other evidence our Georgia car accident lawyers can use to prove your claims for damages.
Call Our Georgia Car Accident Attorneys for a Free Case Evaluation
If a drunk driver hits you, our Gulfport car accident attorneys can help you prepare your lawsuit and use a criminal conviction to your advantage. Call Howe Law at (844) 876-4357 for a free case review.