Civil Lawsuits and DWI Charges

Posted by Doug Murphy | Nov 05, 2021 | 0 Comments

Bad things often happen in Texas vehicle crashes. Worse things can happen when one of the involved drivers is intoxicated. Vehicle accidents involving intoxicated driving can lead to both DWI charges and a civil lawsuit against the intoxicated driver. If another vehicle occupant or pedestrian suffered an injury in an accident in which authorities charged a driver with a DWI, then the chances are good that the driver may face a civil lawsuit in addition to the DWI charges. Don't panic, though. Expert DWI Specialist defense can help you beat the DWI charge. And the chances are good that liability insurance will pay for defense and damages in the civil lawsuit.

Differences Between a DWI Charge and Civil Lawsuit

Big differences exist between a Texas DWI charge and a civil lawsuit filed under Texas civil procedures against you arising out of the same vehicle accident. You may face both DWI charges, whether your first, second, or subsequent such charge, and a civil lawsuit out of a motor vehicle accident, but the stakes, procedures, and outcomes differ. Here are some of the main differences:

  • DWI charges are criminal in nature, brought by a public prosecutor on behalf of the state to punish wrongdoing, while a civil lawsuit is compensatory in nature, brought by a private attorney acting for a private plaintiff seeking money damages;
  • DWI charges generally involve proof that the defendant operated a motor vehicle with lost mental or physical faculties due to drug or alcohol use, while a civil lawsuit requires proof that the defendant was negligent and that the negligence was a cause of the plaintiff's injuries;
  • DWI charges typically involve few if any depositions or other pretrial discovery proceedings and often resolve by plea bargain or trial within a few months, while a civil lawsuit can involve many depositions and other pretrial discovery and proceedings so that the lawsuit lasts up to a year or more;
  • DWI charges can result in fines, jail, and license suspension for the defendant, while a civil lawsuit generally results only in money damages for the plaintiff, usually paid not by the defendant but by the defendant's liability insurer; and
  • DWI charges depend on the prosecutor proving each element of the charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt, while a civil lawsuit depends on the plaintiff's attorney proving each element of the negligence tort by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower standard.

A DWI Charge Does Not Always Mean Civil Liability

Just because you face a DWI charge does not mean that you're going to lose the civil lawsuit. A DWI charge depends on proving intoxication while operating the vehicle. The civil lawsuit requires proving the different claims of the driver's negligence, meaning carelessness. While intoxication can itself be evidence of negligence, the negligence must also be a contributing cause of the injury. Texas negligence actions for damages require proof of causation, meaning a link between the carelessness and the loss. People sometimes get hurt in motor vehicle accidents without any negligence on the part of the defendant driver, even an intoxicated driver. The civil and criminal elements differ. Don't assume that you'll lose the civil lawsuit just because you face a DWI charge.

Attorney Representation in the Civil Lawsuit

You will need attorney representation in the civil lawsuit. That representation, though, is usually arranged by your motor vehicle liability insurer. Your vehicle insurer has its own approved insurance defense counsel. An insurance lawyer is not a DWI Specialist and wouldn't know how to help you with your DWI. Your insurer will likely hire your civil defense attorney and pay that attorney without cost to you. Your insurer likely has the duty to defend you. You should get competent representation in the civil lawsuit without worrying about it, as long as you promptly forward the civil complaint to your motor vehicle insurer. Notify your insurer of the accident in advance, and seek its representation, defense, and indemnity at no expense to you. Things should generally then work out for you.

Attorney Representation on the DWI Charge

But for the DWI charge, you will need to retain your own expert DWI Specialist defense attorney. Your liability insurer will not hire a lawyer to defend your DWI charge. The court may assign you a public defender if you are indigent. But otherwise, you need to identify and retain your own DWI defense lawyer. And when you do so, be sure to hire a Texas DWI Specialist. In fact, why not retain the best available DWI defense attorney? Fellow lawyers voted Texas DWI Specialist attorney Doug Murphy Best Lawyers in America's 2021 Lawyer of The Year. Attorney Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification. Attorney Murphy is your best DWI defense for a DWI charge, whether it causes injury to others or not. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 to discuss your case today.

About the Author

Doug Murphy

Doug Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and also in DWI Defense by the National College for DUI Defense, accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.


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