Can I Sue a Drunk Driver in North Carolina Even if They are Not Convicted?

Driving while intoxicated by drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both is illegal in every state, including North Carolina. Despite public awareness campaigns, many drivers continue to drive while intoxicated, causing serious injuries and the deaths of many innocent people. As drunk driving is a crime in North Carolina, drunk drivers can face criminal penalties and be convicted.

The penalties for drunk driving include jail time, fines, and having a permanent criminal record. The penalties will depend on multiple factors, including how intoxicated the driver was at the time, whether someone was seriously injured or killed, and whether this is the defendant's first conviction. Unfortunately, even when drivers are intoxicated and cause an accident, they may not always be convicted of the crime of drunk driving. This can happen for several reasons, including:

  • The breathalyzer test was never taken, or there was a problem with the breathalyzer equipment
  • The police officer waited too long to conduct a field sobriety test or breathalyzer test
  • The police officer did not have adequate reasonable suspicion to pull the driver over
  • Witness testimony was inadequate to prove impairment
  • The police officer did not give a field sobriety test correctly
  • The defendant accepted a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, such as reckless driving
The Drunk Driver Who Caused My Injuries Was Not Convicted: What Can I Do?

If you were injured by a drunk driver or your loved one was killed by a drunk driver, it can be extremely frustrating to discover that the drunk driver wasn't convicted of a crime. You may understandably feel that justice was not served in this case. If the defendant was not charged with a DUI or was acquitted, what does that mean for victims of the defendant's drunk driving? You may be able to hold the driver accountable by pursuing a civil lawsuit for compensation.

The Difference Between Criminal and Civil Proceedings

It is possible for a defendant to be put on trial and convicted of drunk driving and have to pay penalties in civil court to the victim or victims. It is also possible that a defendant would not be convicted in criminal court but held accountable in civil court. Even if law enforcement could not prove that the other driver was intoxicated at the time of the accident, you may still be able to prove that the driver was at fault for your injuries in civil court. The standard by which prosecutors must prove guilt in criminal cases is much higher than in civil cases. Specifically, prosecutors must show that every element of the crime of driving while intoxicated has been met beyond a reasonable doubt.

When they cannot do so, or when there are constitutional problems with the evidence in the case, the defendant may not be convicted. However, in a civil trial, the plaintiff must prove that all the elements of a personal injury lawsuit have been met by clear and convincing evidence. The standard can be understood as proving that it was more likely than not that the driver’s negligence caused the accident.

Proving Negligence Without a Criminal Charge or Conviction

You may wonder how you will prove your case in court if the defendant has been found not guilty or not charged with drunk driving. It can be easier to prove negligence in a civil court when the driver has already been charged with the crime of driving while under the influence. However, the civil court judge overseeing your case will not care why the other driver was driving recklessly. In other words, you will not necessarily have to prove that drinking alcohol or taking drugs caused the driver to drive negligently or recklessly. Instead, you only have to prove that the driver was driving negligently or recklessly and that that behavior caused the car accident that resulted in your injuries.

For that reason, even if the breathalyzer test had problems or law enforcement did not use a breathalyzer test, you may still be able to prove that negligent driving occurred. For example, your attorney can work with you to gather evidence such as witness testimony, security camera footage, skid marks, and other evidence showing that the driver failed to use reasonable care and was there for driving negligently.

Discuss Your Case with a Skilled Personal Injury Attorney

You are not alone if a drunk driver seriously injures you or your loved one over the holidays. Contact the skilled Charlotte car accident attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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