When DUI Is Deadly

Closeup of an empty alcohol bottle with a drunk driving driver

When a drunk driver causes a car accident that results in fatalities, the driver can face a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court, as well as criminal charges.

Drunk Driving: A Leading Cause of Death

Drunk driving is a leading cause of serious and fatal car accidents across the country, especially during major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, when 40% of fatal car crashes are blamed on drunk driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving kills 28 people every day in the United States, the equivalent of one death every 52 minutes. Each year, more than 10,000 lives are lost to drunk driving.

In 2019, there were 7,468 DUI arrests made in Illinois. In 2020, there were 5,970 DUI arrests: 4,801 for alcohol, 560 for drugs, and 463 non-specific. In recent years, personal injury lawyers in Chicago have seen a decline in DUI fatalities, but drunk driving still accounts for about 30% of fatal car crashes in Illinois.

DUI Laws in Illinois

Like most states, Illinois has a .08 DUI law for drunk driving. Any driver caught driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher can be charged with DUI. When a DUI results in fatalities, a driver can face a variety of legal consequences, including a wrongful death lawsuit with monetary consequences and criminal charges with steep fines, loss of driving privileges, and jail time.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A wrongful death lawsuit is based on the premises that another person’s negligent actions caused fatal injuries. When a person is killed by a drunk driver, family members have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased victim. Wrongful death damages, including compensatory and punitive damages, may include relief for funeral expenses, medical expenses, and the pain and suffering caused by the drunk driving accident.

Criminal Charges

In Illinois, a driver convicted of DUI can face a number of criminal penalties ranging in severity, depending on the number of DUI offenses. Penalties may include:

  • Fines from $500 to $25,000
  • Jail or prison time from 1 to 28 years
  • License suspension from 1 year to life
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID)
  • Regular submission to chemical testing
  • Maintenance of high-risk insurance for three years

Drivers who are first-time offenders may receive probation, community service (100 hours to 25 days), and court-mandated alcohol education classes.


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