Drunk drivers are dangerous. Although most of them get where they want to be without hurting anyone, some of them cause crashes that endanger others. If your family recently lost a loved one to a crash caused by an impaired driver, you may already know that you could have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit under North Carolina law.
However, when the state decides to prosecute that driver, you may not know what implications that has for your legal situation. Can you still bring a civil suit against a drunk driver after their conviction in criminal court, or would a wrongful death lawsuit violate double jeopardy rules?
What about double jeopardy?
When the state has enough evidence to prove that someone broke the law, they will prosecute that person. Especially in cases where wrongful behavior hurt or killed someone, criminal proceedings often result.
The double jeopardy rule for those accused of a crime prevents the state from bringing the same charges for the same offense more than once. This has no bearing on civil proceedings or your right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
A conviction could actually strengthen your civil case
The civil courts only require that a preponderance of evidence support someone’s claims. The criminal courts require evidence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict someone. Prosecutors have already successfully argued against a drunk driver and secured a conviction, you can use their conviction as evidence of wrongful acts in your civil suit.
In other words, rather than weakening your legal position, the state convicting a drunk driver in the crash that cost your loved one their life might actually make it easier for you to hold them financially accountable.