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Civil Liability in a DWI-Involved Accident

 Posted on February 02, 2021 in Uncategorized

The story of a recent fatal Austin motor-vehicle accident allegedly caused by an intoxicated driver is another sad one among many. The allegedly intoxicated driver ran a flashing red light, colliding with a vehicle driven by a hard-working recent immigrant whose seven children are now forever without their father's love and support. The deceased immigrant was also the sole support of his non-English speaking wife for whom, the story reports, he did everything.

The allegedly intoxicated driver now faces intoxication-manslaughter charges, which is the DWI charge when the intoxicated driving causes another's death. Those criminal charges were certainly predictable enough, although the charge alone does not mean a conviction. As DWI Specialist Doug Murphy explains here, defenses to the criminal charge may exist, such as that any intoxication, if intoxication was, in fact, present, did not cause the accident, which occurred in this case at a four-way flashing-red stop.

More than DWI Charges

Whether prosecutors prove the above intoxication-manslaughter charge or not, the family of the deceased immigrant, and the surviving families in other fatal DWI accidents, may in certain cases, pursue a civil negligence claim for their losses. The civil claim is entirely apart from any DWI prosecution, brought not by public prosecutors but instead by private parties retaining their own private counsel.

Texas's wrongful-death statute authorizes the surviving spouse, children, and parents to bring the civil action, or if they don't pursue an action, then the deceased person's estate may. The action must prove the intoxicated defendant's carelessness, not necessarily intoxication itself, although intoxication may well contribute to other forms of carelessness like ignoring a stoplight or driving at excessive speeds. The damages surviving family members may collect include lost financial support, services, love, society, and companionship.

A negligence action for the DWI defendant's civil liability does not require a death. Anyone whom the careless driver injures may bring a claim for pain, suffering, lost wages, medical expense, and other damages. Liability, though, goes both ways. An intoxicated driver who suffers injury because of another driver's fault may have an action, although the intoxicated driver's own carelessness, if present and a cause in part of the driver's own injury, would reduce the driver's recovery.

Who Pays?

The question of who actually pays is an important one. The allegedly intoxicated driver in the above story may have had few assets out of which to pay civil liability and, if convicted and incarcerated, no income. Texas, like all other states, requires owners of vehicles operated on the public highway to maintain liability insurance, although Texas vehicle owners need only insure a minimum of $30,000 in loss per individual and $60,000 in total loss per accident.

Thirty-thousand dollars won't go very far to house, clothe, and feed a grieving wife and seven children. The DWI defendant who causes losses greater than liability insurance covers remains liable for the excess loss beyond the insurance limits. But again, many vehicle owners and drivers have few personal assets and little income out of which to pay the excess liability. Persons injured by another's driving negligence may have their own uninsured-motorist or underinsured-motorist coverage out of which to collect such excess loss.

Get Expert Representation

Allegedly intoxicated vehicle drivers who cause injury or death need skilled representation. Vehicle insurers should hire legal counsel to defend their insured drivers against civil claims. As a premier Texas DWI Specialist, attorney Doug Murphy not only defends DWI charges but also advises clients on their potential excess liability over insurance limits and how to deal with their liability insurer for their best financial protection.

As the 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year, Doug Murphy has the expertise not only to defend DWI and related charges but also to help clients navigate a DWI charge's collateral consequences, one of which is potential civil liability. As a Board Certified DWI specialist and one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification, Doug Murphy knows how to aggressively defend DWI and related charges. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. online or at 713-229-8333 to discuss your case today.

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