Criminal and Civil Consequences of Drunk Driving in Kentucky

by | Oct 14, 2021 | Car Accidents

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, peace officers arrest over 1.5 million motorists for DUI every year. That’s roughly 1 out of every 121 licensed drivers in the country. An untold number of other drivers are impaired, but not legally intoxicated. Impaired motorists might not face criminal law consequences, but they usually face civil law consequences.

Our Lexington personal injury attorneys want these drivers, and the victims of alcohol-related wrecks, to be fully aware of their rights and obligations under both criminal and civil law. Hopefully, this blog will serve as a resource for these purposes. Although we normally don’t handle criminal law matters, we assist car crash victims throughout Kentucky. 

Criminal Consequences

Court supervision and drivers’ license restriction are the two most serious DUI consequences, at least in most cases. These consequences usually make Kentucky roads a little safer for everyone. But they do almost nothing to assist victims of alcohol-related collisions.

Most drunk drivers receive probation. In fact, in many jurisdictions, these defendants make up over half the probationers in the county. Common probation conditions include:

  • Reporting to a probation officer,
  • Paying fines and court costs,
  • Avoiding trouble with the law,
  • Working or attending school full time, and
  • Avoiding “injurious habits.”

The extent of that final bullet varies significantly in different courts. Some judges require complete alcohol abstinence during probation. Others simply limit alcohol consumption.

An ignition interlock device is usually part of the process. Basically, an IID is a portable Breathalyzer which is connected to the vehicle’s ignition. To start the vehicle, the driver must provide a breath sample. If the driver has a BAC level above a certain limit, usually .04, the vehicle won’t start. Furthermore, the driver must periodically provide samples while the car is moving. If there are too many rolling refusals, or a rolling failure, the ignition won’t restart.

In some cases, courts suspend drivers’ licenses. They don’t simply limit them with an IID. The suspension period usually varies between about six months and a year. Occasionally, judges allow defendants to obtain occupational licenses. These licenses allow defendants to do things like drive to and from work and to and from the doctor’s office.

Even after the drivers’ license restrictions end, most former DUI defendants must purchase high-risk SR-22 insurance. They generally must keep this coverage for at least three years. SR-22 insurance could be two or three times higher than ordinary auto insurance.

Criminal laws often effectively punish defendants. But they hardly ever compensate victims. A few victims might be eligible for some money from the state’s Victim Compensation Fund. Additionally, some judges order defendants to pay some victim medical bills and other costs as a condition of probation. But in most cases, these things are unavailable.

Civil Liability

Just like there are two major criminal DUI consequences, there are two main negligence theories in an alcohol-related wreck. 

If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is arrested for DUI, the negligence per se rule could apply. Tortfeasors could be liable for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate a safety law, such as the DUI law, and
  • That violation substantially causes a wreck.

Following vehicle collisions, first responders often don’t issue citations for minor traffic violations, liek making an illegal turn or speeding. But most law enforcement agencies have mandatory DUI arrest policies. If a driver is intoxicated, officers must remove that driver from the roads. If they fail to do so, and that driver subsequently causes a wreck, the department could be financially responsible for vehicle collision damages.

In most cases, the legal limit is a .08 BAC level. Lower limits apply to commercial motorists and people under 21. Authorities could arrest defendants for DUI if their BAC level is under the legal limit. However, such arrests are rare. These cases are difficult to prove in court.

So, if the driver was impaired but not legally intoxicated, the ordinary negligence doctrine is usually the best option. Victim/plaintiffs must use circumstantial evidence to establish negligence, or a lack of care. This evidence usually includes physical symptoms, such as:

  • Odor of alcohol,
  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Unsteady balance,
  • Slow reflexes, and
  • Slurred speech.

The burden of proof in a civil claim is only a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. In contrast, prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So, the aforementioned circumstantial evidence probably would not hold up in criminal court. For example, lots of things, other than alcohol consumption, could cause bloodshot eyes. But in civil court, a little evidence goes a long way.

This circumstantial evidence could also establish vicarious liability in Kentucky. The Bluegrass State has a rather broad dram shop law. It’s illegal for commercial providers to sell alcohol to intoxicated individuals. If they do so, they could be financially responsible for car wreck damages. The dram shop law also applies to other alcohol-related torts, such as assaults.

Damages in a civil claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions. #goodelawyers