A car accident in St. Joseph raises some interesting issues in Missouri’s personal injury law, especially its intersection with the field of criminal defense.
Car Accidents Leads to DUI Arrest in St. Joseph
In the middle of the afternoon of May 12, 2020, a car rear-ended another vehicle on Highway 6 just outside St. Joseph.
According to the initial reports, the trailing vehicle ran off the road and into a field. The driver of the trailing vehicle was hurt and brought to the hospital. There, he was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI).
The driver of the leading car was not hurt.
Injured Parties Can Still Be Responsible for a Car Crash
As we covered in our blog several months ago, Missouri’s comparative negligence rules hold responsible parties accountable for car accidents, even if they were the ones to get severely hurt. This can produce harsh results: Even if the person who was severely hurt was responsible for the crash, they can still have to cover the costs of the innocent person’s minor injuries, in addition to their own losses.
Criminal Cases Can Impact Later Personal Injury Lawsuits
When a car accident was caused by criminal conduct – most often by someone who was drunk driving – the victims in the crash can use the outcome of the criminal case as evidence in their own lawsuit.
When drivers break the rules of the road, it is evidence that they were driving negligently. That negligence is proof that they were the ones who caused the accident.
One of those rules of the road is to not drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Victims in car accidents involving someone who was under the influence frequently delay filing their personal injury lawsuit until after the DUI case has resolved. If the other driver is found guilty of DUI in the criminal case, the victim can file their personal injury claim and use the guilty verdict as evidence in their own case.
The Plea of No Contest in Missouri
For this reason, many people who caused a car crash and who have been charged with DUI will plead nolo contendere, or “no contest,” rather than guilty or not guilty at their arraignment. By pleading no contest, DUI defendants are punished as if they had entered a guilty plea, but they have not admitted wrongdoing. This prevents the finding of guilt from being used against them in a later personal injury claim.
While most states officially recognize pleas of no contest, though, Missouri does not. Defendants who want to plead nolo contendere are treated as making a plea of not guilty. They are then free to try to stipulate to the facts in the police report or the criminal charges. This makes their case move forward based on facts that are presumed to be true, but which have not been proven.
Car Accident Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
The car accident lawyers at the Smith Law Office frequently represent crash victims who have been hurt by a drunk driver. Contact them online or call their St. Joseph law office at (816) 875-9373 for help.