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.
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 usually allow the company to disclaim coverage for losses ("damages" in the language of the law) resulting from a DUI—whether that means:
The insurer's argument here is that the driver intentionally put themselves 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. (Learn more about how insurance companies investigate car accidents.)
If your insurer is denying coverage for losses that resulted from your DUI-related car accident, you might need to hire a lawyer to try to convince the insurer to change its mind.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can learn more about DUI violations, car accidents, and more in these Nolo resources:
If you caused a car accident while you were driving under the influence, and it looks like you're going to be sued over the crash, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury attorney.
When you're facing criminal charges in connection with a DUI, it's usually a good idea to discuss your situation (and the right strategy) with a criminal defense lawyer. Get more details on when you might need a lawyer for a DUI/DWI charge.