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Car accidents: Drunk driver conviction may boost civil claim

In West Virginia, the law of negligence defines liability for injuries and deaths in vehicular accidents. Negligence law governs car accidents in all states. Generally, if an operator was not at least negligent to some degree, that operator cannot be found partially or wholly liable to an injured party or to the estate of a person killed in the accident.

Negligence is defined in this context as operating a vehicle without using the due care that would be reasonable to use under the circumstances. In most cases, litigation will take up the issue of whether the operator did fall below that standard. However, in some cases, the negligence is easy to pinpoint, and the responsible party will have to pay damages.

A recent accident resulted in a man being arrested for drunk driving in the death of a 78-year-old woman, according to the West Virginia State Police. The police say that the man allegedly crossed the center line of a two-lane road and struck the oncoming vehicle driven by the decedent. The man was arrested on charges of DUI resulting in death.

This is an example of one of the easier car accidents in terms of evaluating negligence and fault. Generally, when a vehicle crosses over and strikes an oncoming vehicle head-on, the crossover operator is at fault and is liable for personal injury and wrongful death damages, if any occur. In this case, the next of kin of the decedent may file an estate in the appropriate county courthouse and pursue a wrongful death claim for monetary damages in civil court.

If the operator is convicted of the drunk driving charge, it will be proof of at least negligence on his part. Although the criminal prosecution of the drunk driver is irrelevant to the civil case, it does establish negligence as a matter of law in the civil case if the defendant is convicted in the criminal matter. It could also allow for a finding of punitive damages under West Virginia law, and this is due to the possible recklessness that can often be proved when a drunk driver causes an accident.

Source: U.S. News & World Report, "West Virginia Man Charged in Fatal DUI Accident", April 24, 2017

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