Mesa AZ | Driving under the influence of alcohol can affect a personal injury claim

Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or an intoxicating drug is not just a criminal matter. DUI can also have a substantial impact on a personal injury claim in civil court. Imagine the following scenario:

Driver A is driving down Brown Road. Driver B is in an adjacent lane, going in the same direction as Driver A. Suddenly, Driver B pulls out in front of Driver A, cutting Driver A off. Nonetheless, Driver A should still have time to slow down or stop, but he fails to control his speed and rear-ends Driver B. Both drivers are injured as a result. Driver A sues Driver B in a personal injury claim, believing that Driver B was responsible for the accident by cutting him off.

If Driver A’s claim goes to trial, Driver B will probably present evidence that Driver A was at least partially at fault for the accident, because Driver A failed to control his speed and stop before hitting Driver B. At the end of the trial, the jury will likely assign a percentage of fault to each driver, and then award damages accordingly. For example, the jury might decide that Driver A was actually 60% responsible for the accident, leaving Driver B 40% responsible. If this happens, Driver A, the claimant, will receive 40% compensation in damages and Driver B, the defendant, will receive 60% compensation in damages.

Now, let’s imagine the scenario a little differently. Driver A was drinking beer at a bar before the accident. Imagine that police on the scene of the accident noticed signs of intoxication on Driver A. They investigate Driver A for DUI. 30 minutes after the accident, Driver A gets a blood test. The test shows that Driver A had a blood alcohol concentration of .084.

With that added information, let’s revisit Driver A’s personal injury claim against Driver B. Due to Driver A’s intoxication at the time of the accident, Driver B can raise an affirmative defense against Driver A’s claim. The affirmative defense Driver B can use comes from an Arizona statute (A.R.S. § 12-711) that reads in pertinent part as follows:

In any civil action, the finder of fact may find the defendant not liable if the defendant proves that the claimant…was under the influence of an intoxicating liquor or a drug and as a result of that influence the claimant…was at least fifty per cent responsible for the accident or event that caused the claimant’s or decedent’s harm.

Pursuant to the affirmative defense, the jury may now find that Driver B was completely blameless (0% responsible) for the accident if it finds that: 1) Driver A was under the influence of alcohol; and, 2) as a result of that influence, Driver A was at least 50% responsible for the accident.

You can imagine how this might go for Driver A. By statute, the jury can presume that Driver A was under the influence of alcohol because his blood alcohol concentration was .084, above the legal limit of .08. Further, Driver B can probably introduce evidence that Driver A’s reaction time while driving would have been negatively affected by his alcohol consumption, which explains why he failed to slow down before hitting Driver B.

If the jury sides with Driver B’s affirmative defense, it might decide to award Driver A nothing on his claim. This makes for a drastic change compared to how the claim might have gone without the involvement of DUI.

Hopefully this discussion has been informative. If you wish to learn more on this topic, please reach out to us.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you or someone you know wishes to seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney regarding Under the Influence, or other personal injury matters, call 480.461.5300. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.