Facing Civil Liability and an Intoxication Assault Criminal Charge

Anyone facing a Texas intoxication assault criminal charge should be concerned about also having civil liability for the other person's serious bodily injury. The intoxication assault crime requires the prosecutor to prove that the defendant's intoxication caused another's serious bodily injury. The criminal charge can thus go a long way toward also establishing civil liability. But civil liability requires proof of one element, the intoxicated driver's fault, that the criminal charge does not specifically require. Thus, the criminal intoxication assault charge does not alone establish civil liability. The elements of the crime differ somewhat from the elements of civil liability. The consequences of a criminal charge differ markedly from the consequences of civil liability. The procedures for the crime and civil liability also differ, meaning that defending the crime and civil liability also differ. The crime may lead to a civil liability claim. But don't lump the two together.

Different Elements of Intoxication Assault and Civil Liability

For the intoxication assault crime, Texas Penal Code Section 49.07 requires the prosecutor to prove that the defendant caused, by reason of intoxication, the serious bodily injury of another, while operating a motor vehicle in a public place. By contrast, civil liability for motor vehicle accident injuries requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant's fault, otherwise known as the defendant's negligence, caused the plaintiff's injury. Fault is the critical element in a civil liability case, while fault is no element at all in the criminal charge. Indeed, under Texas Civil Practice Code Section 33.001, a defendant can defeat a Texas negligence claim by proving that the plaintiff's own responsibility for the accident was greater than fifty percent. Texas is, in either words, a comparative fault state where the plaintiff's fault must be not greater than the defendant's fault. Fault is everything in a civil case. Fault is nothing directly in a criminal case.

Intoxication Assault and Causation

While fault is not an element of Texas's intoxication assault crime, fault may often be present when a prosecutor charges that crime. Texas Penal Code Section 49.07(a) states expressly that the defendant commits the intoxication assault crime whether the intoxication causes serious bodily injury to another “by accident or mistake.” An accident or mistake can happen without fault. The prosecutor need not prove that the intoxicated driver drove negligently, failing to exercise ordinary and reasonable care. But to support an intoxication assault charge, the prosecutor must prove that intoxication caused the other person's serious bodily injury. Intoxication, in other words, must have made a difference to the other's serious injury. And under Perry v. S.N., 973 S.W.2d 301, 305 (Tex. 1998), and other Texas case law, courts can find negligence per se when the defendant violates a criminal statute that sets a standard for reasonable conduct. So, while committing intoxication assault isn't technically the same as civil liability, most cases involving intoxication assault will also involve civil liability.

Different Consequences of Intoxication Assault, Civil Liability

Texas Penal Code Section 49.07(c) makes the intoxication assault crime a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony carries a criminal sentence of from two to ten years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000. An intoxication assault conviction can carry other consequences, including loss of driving privileges, required drug or alcohol education, an ignition interlock, community service, and court costs and program fees. By contrast, civil liability carries no risk of imprisonment, education, interlocks, or community service. Civil liability means paying the plaintiff's damages for injury and other losses. Motor vehicle liability insurance often pays for all, most, or much of motor vehicle accident personal injury civil liability. In many civil cases, even ones involving serious injury and substantial damages, the defendant ends up paying nothing. The risk of a judgment exceeding the insurance liability limits exists, meaning that in some cases, the defendant can pay a lot, even owing more than the defendant can afford, even if insurance pays some of the liability. But with sufficient insurance, you could commit intoxication assault and end up paying nothing in civil liability.

Different Procedures for Intoxication Assault and Civil Liability

Intoxication assault is a criminal charge, the resolution of which follows a criminal court's criminal procedures. Those procedures typically begin with an arrest, booking, arraignment, bond hearing, and preliminary examination, and may continue with pretrial motions and conferences, trial, post-trial hearings, sentencing hearings, sentencing, and appeals. Criminal procedures also involve substantial constitutional rights and protections, the violation of which can result in the charge's dismissal. By contrast, civil courts resolve civil liability following civil procedures. Civil procedures begin with pleading and service of process, not arrest. Civil procedures continue with discovery, pretrial motions and conferences, trial, post-trial motions, and appeals.

Defending an Intoxication Assault Criminal Charge

Defending an intoxication assault charge is almost entirely different from defending civil liability. Your retained Texas DWI Specialist may challenge the officer's probable cause for your roadside stop and reasonable suspicion for your sobriety test. Your DWI defense attorney may also challenge the sobriety test results or move to suppress test results and other evidence for police or prosecutor violation of your constitutional rights. As one of only two Texas lawyers board certified in both DWI defense and criminal law defense, 2023 Houston DWI Defense Lawyer of the Year Doug Murphy offers these and many other premier skills for your aggressive and effective DWI defense.

Defending Civil Liability for Intoxication Assault

By contrast, insurance defense lawyers, not Texas DWI Specialists, typically defend civil liability relating to a motor vehicle accident that also led to an intoxication assault charge. Insurance defense lawyers generally do none of the above things in a civil case. They instead usually focus on challenging proof of fault or, where fault is obvious, challenging the plaintiff's evidence of damages. The vast majority of civil cases settle outside of court, meaning that your insurance defense lawyer will generally have a very different skill set than your retained DWI Specialist. Call (713) 229-8333 or go online now to retain premier Texas DWI Specialist defense attorney Doug Murphy for defense of your intoxication assault charge. Let attorney Murphy help you ensure that your motor vehicle insurer is retaining other counsel for your civil liability defense.

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If you are facing DWI or other criminal charges in Texas, contact our office today to discuss your case, so we can begin working on your defense. Please provide only your personal email and cell phone number so that we can immediately and confidentially communicate with you.