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How can drunk drivers be held accountable in a civil case?

With the winter season well under way, Minnesota residents are again becoming accustomed to driving in treacherous road conditions. Recent snowfall resulted in several accidents, as is usually the case when the weather turns bad.

And yet, significant dangers can exist on the road no matter what the road conditions may be at a particular time. One of the most significant of these dangers comes from those who engage in drunk driving.

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 91 traffic deaths in 2014 involved a drunk driver. This amounts to one quarter of all traffic fatalities, demonstrating how serious a problem impaired-related crashes are in the state.

When motorists cause a drunk driving accident, multiple consequences can result. First, they can be arrested and subject to penalties, including jail time and fines, under Minnesota criminal law. The legal limit for drivers is 0.08 percent, but drivers who have a blood-alcohol level under that limit can still be arrested if they are exhibiting impaired driving behavior.

When individuals are injured by a drunk driver, the drunk driver can also face consequences in a civil lawsuit. This is a separate proceeding initiated by the injured party seeking compensation from the drunk driver.

A personal injury action can be successful if the injured party shows the other motorist was negligent at the time of the crash. Impaired driving, including driving at levels below 0.08 percent, can play a significant part in these cases, because it demonstrates the drunk driver was not upholding the duty of care he or she owes to others on the road. Accordingly, it is important to determine whether alcohol played a part when a person is injured in a crash, as that can be used as evidence of the other motorist's negligence.

Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety, "Minnesota impaired driving fact sheet -- 2014," accessed on Dec. 5, 2015

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