Is Drunk Driving a Civil or Criminal Case in Texas?

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Intoxicated drivers pose a serious threat to others on the road. Alcohol and controlled substances can delay reaction times, impair vision, and otherwise negatively impact a driver’s ability to control their car or truck. Even though the public recognizes the dangers of driving while under the influence, many people still engage in this dangerous behavior. Unfortunately, such lapses in judgment can lead to life-altering consequences, such as DUI-related collisions involving catastrophic injuries or even fatalities. If you have suffered an injury at the hands of an intoxicated driver, you have the right to seek compensation to assist you with the costs associated with the collision (i.e., medical bills, lost wages, and other unanticipated expenses). It’s helpful to understand that intoxicated drivers may face both criminal and civil penalties for their reckless actions. This post will explore the differences between DUI-related civil and criminal penalties in Texas and what you can expect when pursuing a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver.

Types of DUI Cases in Texas

Driving under the influence (DUI) can be both a criminal and civil offense in Texas. All states have a law enforcing criminal penalties for drivers who operate a motor vehicle while intoxicated. For instance, if a law enforcement officer pulls a driver over for erratic driving and finds that their blood alcohol content (BAC) is above the legal limit, they may face criminal charges—even if they did not collide with or cause damage to another vehicle. However, when a DUI offense involves injury to another party, the victim has the right to file a civil lawsuit against the intoxicated driver to obtain compensation for their injuries. It’s possible for the at-fault party to face two separate cases (one criminal, one civil) after their reckless behavior caused an accident.

How Texas Handles DUI Cases in Criminal Court

In criminal cases, the state brings charges against the defendant. If the case proceeds to trial, a prosecutor representing the state will argue the case against the drunk driver in court. The prosecutor must prove three elements to secure a DUI conviction: (1) The defendant operated a vehicle; (2) the vehicle was a motor vehicle; and (3) the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time they operated the motor vehicle. Prosecutors must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt; if they succeed, the defendant may face jail time, pay costly fines, or forfeit their driving privileges for a specified amount of time. If an injured party files a civil lawsuit against the drunk driver, the criminal conviction may be used as evidence in the civil trial to demonstrate that the defendant was found guilty of driving under the influence at the time of the accident.

Filing a Civil Lawsuit for a DUI

Civil lawsuits involve two individual parties—they do not involve the state. Instead, an injured party may file a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver to obtain compensation for the financial losses incurred by the accident. If the defendant is found guilty in a civil lawsuit, they must pay the victim a specified amount of compensation. DUI-related civil cases typically involve the following steps.

The Victim Files the Claim

First, it’s up to the victim to decide whether to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. Civil cases can be time-consuming and stressful, so it’s a good idea to talk this through with a seasoned and knowledgeable Houston personal injury attorney before you move forward. If your lawyer believes that you have a strong case, they will help you file the required documents with the civil court.

Determining How Much Compensation You Require

One of the most time-consuming aspects of pursuing a DUI civil lawsuit is calculating how much your claim is worth. Most auto accident victims are entitled to recover compensation for the medical bills, physical therapy bills, lost wages, property repairs, and even emotional suffering they experienced at the hands of the intoxicated driver. If your injuries require ongoing or long-term care, you can factor in these future expenses when making your calculations. Enlisting the guidance of your attorney is the best way to ensure you arrive at a number that fairly and favorably compensates you for your losses.

Negotiating a Favorable Settlement

Not all civil lawsuits proceed to trial. In fact, many cases settle long beforehand, with the two parties negotiating a fair outcome. Every DUI case is unique, and your lawyer will assess the details of your situation to determine the most strategic course of action. For example, they may name an additional defendant, such as the bar that over-served the driver on the night of the accident. Whatever the specific circumstances of your case may be, you can trust that your attorney will fight hard to secure you the compensation you need to get your life back on track.


If you need help collecting compensation after suffering a car accident injury in Houston, call DeHoyos Accident Attorneys at (832) 745-4878 to speak with a trusted and caring personal injury attorney.



















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