As we all know driving while intoxicated is never acceptable. It is a societal problem that is responsible for injury and death to thousands of innocent people every year. It carries with it severe criminal and financial penalties to the intoxicated driver. But it also has some other unknown consequences that can be a severe penalty to the intoxicated driver.

One generally unknown consequence of intoxicated driving is its effect on potential civil personal injury claims of those drivers. Not only can drunk drivers who cause accidents be sued civilly for damages, but intoxicated drivers who are actually not the cause of the accident are also subject to consequences. Pursuant to New Jersey Statute 39:6A-4.5(b) “Any person who is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, operating a motor vehicle in violation of the driving while intoxicated law, or a similar statute from any other jurisdiction, in connection with an accident, shall have no cause of action for recovery of economic or noneconomic loss sustained as a result of the accident.”

The effect of this law is that even if you are not responsible for an accident but are proven to be intoxicated at the time, you are barred from pursuing a claim for any injuries or damages you may have suffered during the accident. As an example, if you are intoxicated and stopped at a red light and another driver smashes into your rear causing you serious injury, you would have no legal recourse against that negligent driver if you are convicted of or plead guilty to drunk driving. In many cases this law prohibits what would otherwise have been a valid and significant civil damages claim against the other driver.

The moral of the story is that there is never a scenario of a so called  “innocent drunk driver.” Even when an intoxicated driver may be lucky enough to avoid seriously hurting somebody else, they still put themselves at risk of injury to themselves and also place themselves in a situation where they are no longer afforded civil law protection from the negligent actions of others.

Mike Foster is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Marlton, New Jersey office, concentrating in Accident & Personal Injury Law. For more information, please contact Mr. Foster.