DUI-Related Accidents and Car Insurance

What if you're convicted of DUI on top of getting into an accident?

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If you are convicted of DUI -- Driving Under the Influence, also known as DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or OUI (Operating Under the Influence) -- you will be facing a number of legal problems, and car insurance issues may be the last thing on your mind.

But, depending on what state you live in and which automobile insurance company you are insured by, you could have problems ranging from having your automobile insurance canceled to the insurance company denying coverage of any personal injury or property damage claims made against you as a result of your DUI.

Denial of Coverage

Automobile insurance covers negligence and perhaps even gross negligence or reckless conduct, depending on what your policy says. But no insurance policy covers intentional conduct.

Some automobile insurers like to argue that drinking and driving is intentional conduct that will allow the company to disclaim coverage for damages resulting from a DUI. The insurers argue that the driver intentionally put him or herself in a position to cause the accident -- i.e., the driver intentionally drank alcohol, intentionally got drunk, intentionally drove after getting drunk, and knew or should have known that drinking and driving is extremely dangerous.

If you cause an accident while you are intoxicated, your auto insurer will at least investigate the circumstances of your accident before it agrees to accept liability for damages relating to your accident.

If the insurer takes the position that you acted intentionally to cause the accident, it may refuse to defend you and will deny coverage for damages relating to your accident. This is especially true if you're trying to get coverage for injuries to other drivers and passengers. But if you're just trying to get the insurer to pay for vehicle damage under your collision coverage, the insurer probably cannot deny that claim. 

If your insurer is denying coverage for bodily injury, you would need to hire a lawyer to sue your insurance company and try to force it to accept coverage for the accident. That is an expensive proposition, and is just one more reason to not drink and drive.

Limitation of Coverage

Even if your insurer agrees to defend you for damages relating to your accident, it will still not defend you against a claim of intentional misconduct or pay for damages relating to a charge of intentional misconduct.

As you may know, the majority of personal injury litigation is based on negligence (which means carelessness or the failure to act with reasonable caution). That is because most people and companies do not act intentionally to injure someone. But occasionally someone will cause harm through an intentional act.

Sometimes a lawyer in a personal injury case involving a DUI will add a claim for intentional misconduct against the defendant. If the case goes to trial, and a jury awards the plaintiff damages for the defendant’s intentional misconduct, the defendant’s insurance company will not pay for those damages. The defendant will have to pay for intentional misconduct damages out of his/her own pocket.

Cancellation of Insurance Policy

To an automobile insurance company, a DUI conviction makes an insured driver a bad risk. Why should the carrier insure a bad risk? It is better for the insurer to simply cancel your coverage and be done with you. Still, automobile insurance is highly regulated in most states. Some states will not permit an insurer to cancel your coverage for a DUI. But you should assume that, in any state where an insurer is legally permitted to cancel a driver’s automobile coverage for a DUI conviction, it will do so. (Check out car insurance laws in your state.)

Your Car Insurance Premium Will Go Up

If your insurer cannot cancel your coverage, it will certainly increase your premium drastically after a DUI conviction. And, if your old coverage is cancelled and you have to look for coverage with a new insurer, you should assume that that new insurer will quote you a similarly high -- perhaps prohibitively high -- premium.

How Long Will a DUI Stay on My Record?

The laws differ from state to state, but you should assume that a DUI will stay on your record for at least seven years. Your car insurance premium will be affected for as long as a DUI is on your record.

The bottom line is don’t drink and drive. If you are drinking, don’t drive. If you have been charged with DUI, you should contact a lawyer who specializes in DUI cases immediately.

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