In addition to the criminal justice aspect of an incident involving a drunk driver, all crime victims have the right to file a civil lawsuit to seek financial restitution. To do this, they must go through the civil justice process.
For some people, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission administers the Arizona Crime Victim Compensation Fund. The maximum award for any one crime is $25,000. This amount can cover medical expenses, mental health counseling, lost wages and support, funeral expenses, travel, crime scene clean-up, and emergencies. To qualify for the award, the crime must have been reported to the police within 72 hours and the claim must be filed within two years of the date of the incident.Victims must apply to the board in the county in which the crime occurred.
However, you may want to seek other forms of compensation. The civil justice process may help victims receive additional compensation not covered by state compensation and restitution. This is where a lawsuit in the civil justice process may provide more complete compensation. It is important to note that the civil justice process may be time consuming and emotionally draining. It may also take years to come to a conclusion, if it isn’t handled by an experienced attorney. At Thompson Law Firm, we work to settle your case in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort from you, and we get you the best settlement possible.
The injury attorneys at Thompson Law Firm in Phoenix have significant experience in helping clients who have been in a DUI accident, including ones who want to go through the civil justice process. Our offices are conveniently located in Chandler, Peoria, and North Phoenix, and we can meet in-person or over the phone or video call. You can contact us for a free consultation, or read on to find out more.
By the way, we will also help with other problems that have cost you sleep, like getting a rental car very soon and finding a nearby doctor or psychiatrist who can help get your life back on track. Even the best legal team isn’t good enough if your quality of life isn’t sustainable while justice and compensation are on the way. The whole point of legal action is to regain quality of life, so we help you long-term as attorneys and short-term as your go-to people.
If you are unsure whether or not you can afford an attorney, don’t worry. We only get paid when you settle. Check out our Attorney Fees Calculator to find out more.
The Civil Justice System
Whereas the criminal justice system is designed to determine the innocence or guilt of an offender, the civil justice system determines if the offender is liable for the injuries sustained as a result of a crime. If the defendant is found guilty in a civil case, they usually must then pay the victim or the victim’s family monetary damages. A victim may choose to file a civil justice case against the impaired driver responsible for the incident as well as their insurance company.
In addition, a third party may be named in the suit. The third party can be a restaurant, bar, or liquor store that sold alcohol to a driver who was involved in a crash. Other third parties may include individuals who were aware the driver was intoxicated or the company/employer in the case of the driver using a company vehicle.
Even if a defendant was found not guilty in a criminal proceeding, they can still be found to be negligent through a civil justice trial. That is because the basis of guilt is different. In a criminal case, the judge or jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the judge or jury must be convinced by a preponderance of the evidence or by clear and convincing evidence.
Before Filing A Suit in the Civil Justice System
If you are considering filing a civil suit, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible—even during the proceedings of a criminal case. The earlier you hire an attorney, the easier it will be for them to gather information on the case. If we are your attorneys, we can help represent you in both your civil and criminal cases. Whether or not you choose to file a civil suit, your insurance company and the insurance company of the defendant will be working to settle the case.
While insurance companies are required by law to negotiate settlement of cases in good faith, their settlement offers may not be in your best interest. Having an attorney to advocate for you with the insurance company is in your best interest as the attorney has experience navigating these types of situations. Even if you choose to not hire an attorney for a civil suit and believe the settlement offer is fair, it is a smart idea to have an attorney review the settlement and release. You need to know what you are agreeing to when accepting the insurance company’s settlement offer.
When you sign the release, you sign away any claims against the other party forever. If you are only dealing with property damage where the market value of your vehicle is easily determined, it is often not necessary to begin civil proceedings. When personal injury is involved, however, the case becomes much more complex. Do not settle with the insurance company or sign an agreement or release unless you are absolutely certain all costs are covered and that you understand the terms and conditions. If you choose to file a civil suit, your attorney will manage all of the issues with the insurance companies. You will not have to speak to the adjustor as your attorney will handle that.
As you deal with the emotional consequences associated with being in an accident with an impaired driver, it may feel overwhelming to look for an attorney to start civil litigation. It may be worthwhile to ask a family member or friend for support in finding an attorney and helping you navigate this process.
How Does Bankruptcy Affect Me?
If the defendant was driving under the influence, your attorney may advise you to not file a civil suit with the reasoning that the defendant may file bankruptcy to avoid paying you. That may or may not be true. Bankruptcy falls under federal law, and changes have recently occurred to ensure that DUI cases are not protected by filing chapters 7 and 13 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code.
If you file a civil suit—and win—and then the defendant moves to file bankruptcy, the bankruptcy judge may not discharge the claim arising out of the incident. That means the defendant will still owe you on the judgment, regardless if the bankruptcy is allowed. Be aware that you may have difficulty collecting. However, secondary and third-party defendants who have been found responsible may still file corporate bankruptcy under chapter 11.
Filing a Lawsuit in the Civil Justice System
If you feel that there is a possibility that the offender has significant income or assets that may be available to cover your losses, and the liability insurance company has not offered an acceptable settlement, you might choose to file a wrongful death or personal injury suit.
To file a lawsuit in the civil justice system, a complaint must be submitted to the court. The complaint document describes the claims, complaints, and facts of the case. In a civil justice case with a drunk driver, the defendant is the driver or a third party that is alleged to be responsible in part for the incident.
Following filing of the complaint with the court, the defendant(s) has a set amount of time in which to respond to it. This is called an answer and it outlines the defendant’s version of events. Either party can request that the case be dismissed altogether or that certain claims or defenses be dismissed in part.
During the civil justice process, either party may request information from the other party for pertinent documents or information pertaining to the case. This is called the discovery phase. During the civil discovery, facts and circumstances are investigated, witnesses are interviewed, pertinent documents are obtained, and witnesses are questioned under oath.
Information is collected during the discovery process through interrogatories, or questions sent to the opposing party, and a deposition, which is a formal proceeding in which attorneys question the other party. The transcription from a deposition can be used at trial when needed. If the case is not settled during these initial stages, it will proceed to trial. Most of the time, as with criminal cases, civil justice cases are settled out of court.
Get Help Now
At the Thompson Law Firm, we have more than 10 years of experience helping clients obtain compensation for their civil justice lawsuits including those from DUI accidents. When you’re ready to talk, please contact our office to arrange a free initial consultation by phone or at our Chandler office.
If you have been in a DUI car accident, contact Thompson Law Firm in Chandler, AZ to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. We provide personal injury legal services to clients in the greater Phoenix area including Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, and Peoria.