According to the CDC, Drunk Driving and DUI in Florida results in an average of approximately 8500 deaths every 10 years. The data also presents the sobering fact that these types of instances occur so often in Florida, they top the national average. 2016 resulted in nearly 45,000 DUI arrests and almost 28,000 convictions.
Far too often, innocent people become victims of these tragic events and have to endure injury, property damage, and even the death of loved ones. And unfortunately, the DUI driver’s insurance company is NOT interested in helping victims receive adequate compensation for their losses.
You Don’t Have To Deal With This Alone
Florida Statute Section 316.193.3C1 provides for enhanced penalties for any driving under the influence case that causes or contributes to property damage or non-serious personal injury of another. DUI with property damage or non-serious personal injury is a first-degree misdemeanor. DUI cases involving the serious bodily injury (as opposed to non-serious injury) can be charged as a third-degree felony. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney; they can help uncover the best course of action to protect your rights.
Why Do I Need an Attorney if I’m a victim of a DUI resulting in injury or property damage from a drunk driver?
- Car Insurance Companies are Not Obligated to Pay Punitive Damages
- Insurance Defense Lawyers Argue Drunk Driving Facts will Anger the Jury too Much
- Insurance Defense Lawyers Also Argue the Accident Didn’t Cause Your Injuries and Damages
- Insurance Defense Lawyers Tell the Judge Alcohol has No Relationship to Your Injuries
When most people hear the term “DUI,” they tend to think of the criminal prosecution that results from a defendant being pulled or caught behind the wheel while driving drunk. Criminal DUI charges are intended to punish the driver for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, regardless of whether the driver caused any harm from doing so.
But what happens if the driver causes harm? What happens if a drunk driver crashes into a parked car and injures or kills someone, or plows into the side of a building and causes structural damage?
In many of these situations, victims are entitled to file a civil suit following the criminal prosecution in order to recover damages from the driver.
Criminal DUI Penalties
In Florida, criminal charges are brought on behalf of the people by the Florida government. Criminal penalties are designed to punish the defendant for engaging in behavior that society deems unacceptable, like drunk driving. As such, the penalties often involve jail time, probation, and fines.
The legal blood alcohol limit (BAC) in Florida is 0.08%. If someone is caught driving with a BAC of over 0.08%, they may be charged with DUI and Florida will begin criminal proceedings against them. The criminal consequences of a first DUI in Florida are up to six months in jail, a fine of $500-$1,000, suspension of driver’s license up to one year, and possibly an ignition interlock device being installed in their car (at their expense).
However, those are the penalties simply for being caught driving with a BAC of over 0.08%. The state of Florida enhances jail time penalties if there are aggravating circumstances surrounding a DUI, including:
- Nine months for a BAC of 0.15% or more
- Nine months for having a passenger under 18 years old
- One year if there was an accident involving property damage or minor injuries
- Five years if there was an accident involving serious bodily injury
These penalties are designed to punish the perpetrator only, not to compensate potential victims. That’s where civil consequences come into play.
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The Civil Consequences of a Florida DUI
There is no such thing as a “civil DUI.” Instead, there are a number of civil consequences that can follow from the same incident that lead to a DUI conviction. While the purpose of a criminal prosecution for DUI is to punish the offender, the purpose of civil cases against a drunk driver is to compensate any victims for their damages. Civil cases against a drunk driver can follow a criminal prosecution or occur simultaneously. The most common civil consequences of a DUI include:
Punitive Damages: Punitive Damages are allowed in a case when the at-fault person does something intentional or reckless without having any regard for the consequences of their actions. Punitive damages are also a form of punishment for the wrongdoer. Another phrase for punitive damages is “exemplary damages.”
Punitive damages are only allowed in or after a trial. In most cases, it is a jury trial. After the main claim is presented and a verdict is found by the jury, the judge then has a second mini-trial with the same jury. This time they are asked to decide if the defendant should be punished by being ordered to pay punitive damages on top of the compensatory damages they just awarded.
The judge tells the jury that they should award punitive damages if they find by “Clear and Convincing” evidence that the defendant was either guilty of “Intentional misconduct” or “gross negligence,” which was a substantial cause of damages to you.
Civil suits by victims of the accident or their representatives: If bodily injury or property damage is involved, insurance companies normally provide compensation. However, if the damage was severe, if someone died, or the damages exceed the driver’s insurance policy limits, the victim or their representatives can bring suit directly against the driver for any remaining damages.
Insurance issues: A DUI is a serious offense and makes the offender a high risk for his or her insurance company. As such, a drunk driver’s insurance company will either raise their rates or drop them from their policy entirely. This can make it hard to afford insurance or to find a new insurer willing to take on the risk.
Suspension or revocation of driver’s license: Driver’s licenses are issued and controlled by Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles; thus, it is a civil administrative agency. However, the agency will revoke or suspend your driver’s license if ordered to do so by the court.
How Much in Punitive Damages are Allowed to be Awarded?
The court will tell the jury to consider an amount that will act as a deterrent to others, and they should consider:
- The nature, extent, and degree of misconduct;
- Whether the wrongful conduct was motivated solely by unreasonable financial gain;
- If the unreasonably dangerous nature of the conduct, together with the high likelihood of injury resulting from the conduct, was actually known by the defendant;
- Whether at the time the defendant had a specific intent to harm;
- And the jury is to consider the financial resources of the defendant, but not award an amount that would financially destroy the defendant.
Just as choosing the right heart surgeon is crucial to a successful quadruple bypass, choosing the right attorney to handle your personal injury case is paramount to receiving an appropriate settlement. Just like anything important, do your homework, talk to your trusted confidants, and do not settle for anything less than the best you can find. Remember the right accident attorney is out there.
At Fernandez Law Group, you are choosing a Tampa personal injury lawyer with an in-depth understanding of exactly how to get you the compensation you deserve. If you have experienced loss due to a serious Florida injury, contact Fernandez Law Group to speak with a knowledgeable Tampa personal injury attorney today.
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Content authored by Gaston Fernandez