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What to Expect from the Defense in a DUI Personal Injury Claim

Personal injury claim typed on an old typewriter

Knowing what to expect from the defense in a DUI personal injury claim can help you and your lawyer prepare evidence to debunk the other side’s arguments. One of the most common arguments is that the driver was not intoxicated. The defense may also try to show that the driver was not actually operating the car at all, or that police acted illegally or wrongly when officers obtained evidence of drunk driving.

Do You Need to File a DUI Personal Injury Claim?

Talk with a car accident lawyer to determine whether you have a DUI personal injury case. Successful cases show that the defendant was negligent and that the negligence caused the accident and your injuries.

In Illinois, you must show you are less than 50% at fault to be able to collect damages. Police reports, witness statements, and accident reconstructions are several ways to prove you are not at fault in a car accident.

Lawyers also review the police report when evaluating your claim. Understanding how to get a police report for a car accident helps lawyer meetings go more smoothly. The more documentation you can provide upfront, the better. In Chicago, you can typically get police reports online, through the mail, or in person at the Central Police Headquarters. Online traffic crash report forms ask for the report number, the location of the collision, and the driver’s name. 

Essential information in a police report includes the names and contact information of independent witnesses, a narrative of how the collision occurred, the weather and the lighting, and an opinion by the investigating officer as to who caused the accident. The officer writes the narrative only after investigating and interviewing drivers and witnesses. The report also includes details on injuries and medical treatments. The police report may identify other at-fault parties, for example, if the driver was operating a work vehicle while working.

How Do DUI Charges Impact a Drunk Driver Lawsuit?

Technically speaking, a personal injury case against a drunk driver is a civil matter. It is different and separate from criminal DUI cases. You can proceed with a civil case without waiting for the outcome of the criminal case, although your personal injury attorney stays abreast of developments in the criminal case. The driver deals with the DUI charge separately while you seek personal injury compensation from him or her.

Illinois does have dram shop laws that say a bar or tavern can be held liable for serving patrons alcohol if the patrons later injure someone. If you have been injured in a car accident, you might be able to use dram shop claims against these alcohol vendors.

The law in Illinois is a bit different because the vendor does not necessarily have to do anything wrong. Other states’ dram shop laws typically state that vendors are responsible only if they served alcohol to underage or obviously intoxicated people who later hurt another person.

Common DUI Defenses

Knowing what to expect from the defense in a DUI personal injury claim can help you prepare your case. Common DUI defenses include claims of inaccurate breath alcohol tests and inaccurate or invalid field sobriety tests. These defenses take on even more weight when they are coupled with a lack of intoxication evidence elsewhere, a lack of impaired or bad driving, or investigating officers unqualified in DUI cases.

Inaccurate Breath Alcohol Tests

Breathalyzers measure a person’s blood alcohol level by determining the particles of breath alcohol in the lungs. Just one breathalyzer test may not be enough to accurately measure if a person is intoxicated or to what level.

Breath tests also have other potential issues. For example, variances in human physiology can skew readings. Even body temperature variances can affect the accuracy of a breath test. Defense attorneys may use forensic toxicology experts to argue that the police’s breathalyzer test erred.

Inaccurate or Invalid Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests are supposed to be standardized. That means police officers should instruct and perform them the same way every time. However, some studies identify them as only 60% to 70% accurate. Their accuracy may decrease when they are administered to senior citizens, people who are overweight, and people with disabilities.

The police officers in your case may not even have tried to administer the standardized field test in the first place. Instead, they might have tried balance tests, finger-to-nose tests, or alphabet tests where drivers are asked to say the alphabet. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and many police agencies do not recognize these tests.

Driver Not in Physical Control of Vehicle

The defense may claim that a driver was using the vehicle as shelter until he or she got sober enough to drive again. Defense attorneys could say that the driver was resting despite having the key in the ignition or the engine running. The defense could also say that another person was actually driving the vehicle.

Illegal Stop of Driver or Vehicle

Police officers cannot stop a vehicle unless they have a reasonable, articulable belief that a driver has violated a law. In a criminal case, the state must prove that police obtained evidence lawfully and that no illegal, unreasonable searches and seizures occurred. Police are not allowed to pull over drivers just based on a gut feeling that they are drunk. Similarly, police cannot pull over a car a few blocks after it left a bar “just because.” Defense attorneys using illegal stop arguments may file motions to suppress evidence.

Driver Was Not Allowed to Contact an Attorney

A DUI defense attorney may argue that police did not allow suspects to contact attorneys. Therefore, what followed (questioning, testing, and more) may have violated the suspect’s rights. In many cases, though, police are allowed to prioritize investigating a suspected DUI case, for example, if waiting hours for an attorney would delay the administration of a blood alcohol test.

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