DUI-Related Accidents and Car Insurance

A DUI car accident comes with a number of negative consequences for the cited driver, and while car insurance isn't the number one concern, rates and "insurability" will surely be impacted.

If you are convicted of DUI -- a criminal offense known as Driving Under the Influence (also known as DWI or Driving While Intoxicated) -- you'll undoubtedly be facing a number of legal problems. That's true whether or not you also caused a DUI-related car accident in connection with the offense. So the impact on your car insurance may be the last thing on your mind.

But, depending on what state you live in and which automobile insurance company issued your policy, you could face a number of insurance-related problems -- ranging from having your policy canceled to the insurance company denying coverage of any personal injury or property damage claims made against you as a result of your DUI. Read on for the details.

Denial of Coverage After a DUI

A liability car insurance policy typically provides coverage for any accident in which the policyholder (or someone else covered under the policy) drives in a negligent manner -- and perhaps even in a grossly negligent or reckless manner, depending on what the policy says -- and causes a car accident. But no car insurance policy covers car accidents caused by intentional conduct.

Some automobile insurers like to argue that drinking and driving is intentional conduct, since that argument (if accepted) will allow the company to disclaim coverage for damages resulting from a DUI -- whether injuries and vehicle damage sustained by the driver and/or passengers in the vehicle you hit (under your liability coverage), or your own losses (under your personal injury protection or similar coverage).

The insurer's argument here is 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 at the very least 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 crash before it agrees to accept liability for any damages.

If the insurer takes the position that you acted intentionally to cause the accident, it may refuse to defend you and may 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 may not attempt to deny that claim.

If your insurer is denying coverage for bodily injury, you might need to hire a lawyer to try to convince the insurer to change its mind.

Limitation of Coverage

Even if your insurer agrees to defend you for damages relating to your DUI 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 claims are based on the fault concept of 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 (which is usually defined as an intentional tort).

Sometimes a lawyer in a personal injury case involving a DUI will add a claim for intentional misconduct against the at-fault DUI driver. If the case goes to trial, and a jury awards the plaintiff damages for the driver's intentional misconduct, the DUI driver'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. For financial liability purposes when it comes to the intentional conduct charge, it's the same as driving without insurance.

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's better for the insurer to simply cancel your coverage. 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.

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.

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