Drunk Driving Accident Attorneys Note the Case of Ethan Couch and the Difference Between Criminal and Civil Liability

drunk driving accidentDrunk driving accident attorneys note the recent report of 16 year old Ethan Couch, the Texas youth who avoided jail time for a drunk driving accident, in which he killed four people and injured two others while driving a vehicle owned by his father’s company, based on the novel legal defense of “affluenza.”  While many commentators have written about the case, a good summary of the legal defense, as well as a critique of the psychological basis of the defense can be found in a Slate online magazine article here.

The Slate report describes the affluenza defense and its impact on young Mr. Couch’s case as follows:

Rather than the 20 years of jail time the prosecution asked for, Texas Judge Jean Boyd gave Couch absolutely no jail time and instead sentenced him to 10 years of probation and time in a long-term treatment facility. That facility costs $450,000 per year, paid for by Couch’s wealthy parents. Among other amenities, it offers equine therapy and organic food choices.

Many people have railed against the judge’s sentence, which was drastically different from that given to others who have killed people while driving drunk. One mitigating factor that worked for Couch: a creative defense team. During the sentencing phase of the trial, the defense argued that Couch shouldn’t be held as responsible as he might be because his parents were so permissive in their style of child rearing that Couch did not experience socially appropriate consequences for his socially inappropriate behavior.

Criminal Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents is Different Than Civil Liability

Drunk driving accident attorneys note that, whereas Mr. Couch was able to avoid jail time for his offense, the determination of the criminal court will be different than the civil case that will most assuredly be brought against the youth.  In a criminal matter, a person is accused of a crime and, if convicted, can be sentenced to jail or (as in the case of Mr. Couch), probation.  Sometime monetary fines and restitution are imposed on the guilty party.

However, the outcome of a criminal matter is often not relevant to a civil matter that could be brought against the person committing the wrongful act.  For instance, a person who drives drunk commits a crime, but if that person also injures or kills another person while driving drunk, he or she may face civil liability in addition to criminal charges.  In a civil case, a person’s actions are not judged on whether they were illegal, but instead on whether they constituted negligence, reckless or malicious behavior, or other fault.  If those actions are found to constitute fault, and if those actions caused injury to another person, then the wrongful actor may be held liable to the injured party for the payment of money to compensate for the injuries and other damages caused.  Often these damages include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, and in the case of death, various damages for the wrongful death.

Moreover, in a civil action, not only may the wrongdoer be held liable, but also any other party determined to be at fault for the incident causing injury.  In Ethan Couch’s case, it is anticipated that a civil lawsuit will be filed on behalf of the injured parties and by the families of the persons killed not only against Mr. Couch, but also against his father’s company which gave him access to the vehicle he was driving while drunk.  Because Mr. Couch was a minor at the time of the accident, it is anticipated that his parents may be named as defendants as well, both for their failure to supervise their child and also, perhaps, for their actions in contributing to Mr. Couch’s “affluenza.” Typically, insurance is available to cover these damages, even when the wrongdoer was driving under the influence.

Even if a Drunk Driver Avoids Jail Time for Causing Injury, an Injured Party May Still Have a Claim

If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a drunk driving accident, and even if the drunk driver avoided jail time, contact Attorney Group today.  We will evaluate your case, and if we determine you have a claim, we will connect you with an experienced drunk driving accident attorney in your area who can assist you in dealing with insurance companies and work on your behalf to recover the compensation to which you may be entitled.  In many states, the time you have to pursue a claim is limited, so contact Attorney Group today.