The aftermath of a car accident is life-changing for all parties involved, but it can be especially difficult for someone who was seriously injured by a drunk driver. There is some level of unfairness that comes into play when a driver, who is following the rules of the road and driving cautiously, is hit by a driver who made the reckless decision to drive while intoxicated. While the driver of the vehicle responsible may be subjected to criminal charges, due to Arizona’s strict DUI law, the relief that is available to help the victim of the crash depends on whether the remedies are in a civil or a criminal setting.

Criminal or Civil, What’s the Difference?

The criminal court system in Arizona, as with criminal courts across the country, was designed to protect the public from future harm by punishing those who violate the laws of the state. These proceedings act as deterrents to others against violating Arizona’s DUI law, thereby in theory decreasing illegal activity by encouraging lawful conduct. Having fewer people who choose to violate Arizona’s laws arguably creates a safer living environment for Arizonans. It is for this reason that a reckless driver faces prosecution in a criminal court regardless of any damage.

DUI Law in Criminal and Civil Cases

Civil cases compensate victims of individuals who break the law for damages that they incurred because of illegal behavior. While restitution is available to victims in criminal cases, the amount is usually insufficient to cover the true costs to a victim of a drunk driver, as restitution only allows for actual damages. In a civil case, a victim may sue a drunk driver for damages that include property damages, medical bills, financial losses, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. These damages can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The differences between criminal and civil courts are not only the issue of damages. One important aspect that victims of drunk drivers should keep in mind is that the drunk driver will likely either plead guilty or be found guilty of a DUI in the criminal case. This information further helps in the civil case to prove that the driver was negligent and/or reckless when operating the vehicle that caused the accident in which the victim suffered damages. Because Arizona is a fault state, which requires showing fault in order to recover damages, having evidence from a criminal case showing that a civil defendant either admitted to or was found to be guilty of driving under the influence goes a long way toward a victim’s burden of proving fault for the accident.


If you or a loved one has been in a car accident, do not hesitate to call the Thompson Law Firm. Our professionals can talk to you in more detail about DUI law and criminal charges versus obtaining relief that you need to put your life back together.

Our experienced attorneys offer comprehensive guidance on all personal injury matters by phone or video conference call.

Our team of lawyers work closely with their injury clients across Arizona, communicating clearly whilst offering reassurance and empathy through an often very difficult and emotional process. During the free consultation, our lawyers will discuss your concerns before creating a comprehensive plan for you, while also assessing the strength of your claim.

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