Reckless driving, driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance and vehicular homicide are serious traffic offenses under Alabama law. Our auto accident attorneys at Cross & Smith have handled numerous auto accident cases in Tuscaloosa, Alabama that involve the commission of a serious traffic offense so that we have the experience necessary to handle your case as well.Serious traffic offenses in Alabama result in criminal prosecution as well as the imposition of civil liability in the event personal injury or death is caused by the offense and the injured person or personal representative of the decedent’s estate makes a claim for damages arising out of the matter.
Reckless driving is a criminal offense in Alabama as well as a basis to establish civil liability in auto accident cases. Reckless driving is defined as driving a vehicle “carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard for the rights or safety of persons or property, or without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.” Reckless driving charges are not restricted to driving on state highways. A person can commit the offense even if, for example, he or she is driving in a parking lot or on school grounds.
In Alabama, what constitutes reckless driving is usually a question of fact based on the total circumstances. For instance, a driver may commit reckless driving by driving negligently, but at a speed or in a manner likely to endanger any person or property.
In our view, there would be a reduction in the number of auto accidents in Birmingham, Bessemer and Tuscaloosa if law enforcement in Alabama enforced the offense more aggressively, particularly on heavily travelled interstate highways found in these and other Alabama cities. Drivers who choose to drive at dangerously high speeds swerving in and out of traffic are guilty of reckless driving. Additionally, 18-wheelers and other large trucks that drive well in excess of posted speed limits should be charged far more often with reckless driving.
Driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance is also a serious traffic offense in Alabama. A person cannot drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle while there is 0.08 percent or more by weight of alcohol in his or her blood and/or under the influence of a controlled substance to a degree which renders him or her incapable of driving safely. Any driver under the age of 21 years of age may not drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle if there is 0.02 percent or more by weight of alcohol in his or her blood. Driving under the influence is a criminal offense as well as a basis to establish civil liability in an auto accident case.
Crimes usually require an element of one of the following states of mind or levels of intent: purposeful, knowing, reckless and negligent. Most criminal offenses are made up of an act and an intent. An exception to this rule, however, is where the act alone constitutes a criminal offense. In these limited cases, a person who commits the act prohibited by law has committed the crime no matter what his or her culpable mental state was at the time of the offense. For example, speeding violations fit this exception. If a driver is found to be speeding, it makes no difference whether the driver was speeding purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently. The act of speeding alone is sufficient to commit the offense. Driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance also fits this exception. The conduct prohibited by the DUI statute is based on driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
A person is guilty of vehicular homicide if he or she “shall unlawfully and unintentionally cause the death of another person while engaged in the violation of any state law or municipal ordinance applying to the operation or use of a vehicle….” Courts in Alabama have defined “unintentional” to include knowingly, recklessly or criminal negligence and held that it includes all forms of state of mind other than intent.
If the driver who hit you received a ticket or was arrested at the scene, this alone will not have any direct impact on your case. Likewise, if the other driver wasn’t ticketed or arrested, you could still have a claim for financial compensation. A ticket or arrest indicates that the responding officer had probable cause to believe that the other driver violated the law, but this in itself is not evidence of liability. In order to recover financial compensation, you need to be able to prove that the other driver’s negligence caused or contributed to your injuries.
Potentially, yes. If the other driver pleads guilty to reckless driving, drunk driving, vehicular homicide, or any other serious offense, then your Alabama motor vehicle accident lawyer may be able to use the guilty plea as evidence in your case. However, the key here is that the guilty plea is evidence only—it is not sufficient to establish liability on its own. In order to prove liability, your attorney may need to present various other forms of evidence that establish a causal relationship between the other driver’s illegal conduct and your accident-related injuries.
No, while you may be able to use a guilty plea to your advantage, the other driver’s traffic court or criminal case is entirely separate from your civil claim for damages. So, while you may have the opportunity to testify as a witness, if you don’t, you can absolutely still pursue your claim.
If the other driver receives a “not guilty” verdict, this also will not have any direct impact on your case. The reason for this is that criminal cases require proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” while civil cases only require proof “beyond a preponderance of the evidence.” This is a much lower standard, so even if the evidence is insufficient to establish guilt, it could still be more than enough to establish liability.
Maybe, however any amount you receive in “restitution” is likely to be significantly less than the amount you could recover by filing a claim with the help of an Alabama motor vehicle accident attorney. Additionally, since the outcome of the driver’s criminal case is entirely beyond your control (and, as we just mentioned, the burden of proof is much higher), you should not rely on the possibility of receiving restitution.
If you received a ticket as a result of the accident, the same rules apply. Additionally, under Alabama’s “pure contributory negligence” law, even if you were partially at fault because you broke the law (which you should never assume), you could still be entitled to financial compensation. Contact us to speak with one of our experienced motor vehicle accident lawyers to learn more.
In our experience, it is important to closely monitor the progress and results of any criminal case resulting from an auto accident involving a serious traffic offense so that our investigation parallels the investigation conducted by assigned law enforcement officers. If you, or someone close to you, have been involved in an auto accident involving a serious traffic offense, we urge you to contact our skilled Alabama auto accident lawyers. At Cross & Smith, we have handled numerous auto accident cases in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. If you would like to consult with us, please contact us online or call our office at (877) 791-0618 for a free confidential consultation.
"After my husband was injured in a burn accident at work, we felt the accident could have been avoided. I was not sure where to start, but after careful research, we met with Justin Smith and shared our experience. From day one, we felt we were in good hands. Justin and Dell explained everything and kept us informed from start to finish. It was a complicated case that took an outside the box approach. Both Justin and Dell made us feel like part of the team."