You know that if a reckless driver causes an accident, the victims can file a personal injury lawsuit to recover their medical bills and other losses arising from the crash. But what if someone is injured or killed as a result of a criminal act, such as drunk driving? Can the victim–or their family–still pursue legal action if the matter is already before a criminal court?
Yes. In Texas, the civil and criminal justice systems operate independently of one another. This means that you can always sue a negligent driver for causing a car accident even if they are involved in a separate criminal proceeding. For that matter, you can sue a driver even if they are never charged with a crime or are acquitted by a jury in a criminal prosecution. This is because in personal injury cases, the plaintiff’s burden of proof is much lower than a district attorney’s burden of proof in a criminal case.
Parents of Killed Pedestrian Sue Accused Drunk Driver, Multiple Houston Bars
Indeed, it is fairly common for the families of fatal accident victims in drunk driving crashes to pursue a separate wrongful death claim against the drunk driver. For instance, the parents of an accused drunk driver recently filed such a lawsuit in Harris County. This lawsuit arose from an April 2023 accident where a 33-year-old man was struck and killed by a car while walking down a sidewalk after going on a first date.
Police arrested the driver of the vehicle on suspicion of drunk driving. The Harris County district attorney later charged the driver with intoxicated manslaughter. She is currently awaiting trial on those charges.
The victim’s parents filed their own civil wrongful death lawsuit on June 6, 2023. The lawsuit alleges that the driver was “extremely intoxicated, speeding, and not paying attention to where she was driving,” and that her Porsche 911 “left the roadway, careened onto the sidewalk, and violently collided with” the victim. At the time, the driver allegedly had a blood-alcohol content that was 4 times the legal limit in Texas.
In addition to naming the driver as a defendant, the parents also sued four Houston-area bars that allegedly served alcohol to the driver in the hours before the fatal accident. This is possible because of what is known as the Texas Dram Shop Act. (The term “dram shop” is old slang for a bar or tavern.) Under the Dram Shop Act, a commercial business that serves liquor can be sued for personal injury or wrongful death if they over-served an already visibly intoxicated patron, and that intoxication was the primary cause of the victim’s injury or death.
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This is still a pending civil and criminal matter. No court has established the defendant’s guilt or civil liability as of this writing. But this story is a good illustration of how the legal system in Texas can help victims of a car accident recover compensation from a drunk driver, and potentially the bars and taverns that served alcohol to that driver. If you have been recently injured in an accident and need advice from an experienced Houston wrongful death attorney, contact The Stano Law Firm today at (832) 777-0390 to schedule a free consultation.