Criminal vs. Civil Penalties for DUI in Florida

January 27, 2017 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Criminal vs. Civil Penalties for DUI in Florida

When most people hear the term “DUI,” they think of the criminal prosecution that results from being pulled over while driving drunk. A criminal DUI charge is intended to punish the driver for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, regardless of whether the driver caused any harm from doing so. But what happens if the driver does cause harm? What happens if a drunk driver crashes into a parked car and kills or injures someone, or plows into the side of a building and causes structural damage? What often happens in these cases is a civil suit following the criminal prosecution in order to recover damages from the driver.

Let's take a look at the standard criminal penalties for a DUI offense and the civil consequences that can follow.

Criminal DUI Penalties

A criminal charge is brought on behalf of the people of a state by that state's government. As mentioned above, criminal penalties are designed to punish the defendant for engaging in behavior that society deems unacceptable, like drunk driving. As such, the penalties often involve jail time, probation, and fines.

The legal blood alcohol limit (BAC) in Florida is 0.08%.1 If you are caught driving with a BAC of over 0.08%, you may be charged with DUI and the state will begin criminal proceedings against you. The criminal consequences of a first DUI in Florida are up to six months in jail, a fine of $500-$1,000, suspension of your driver's license up to one year, and possibly an ignition interlock device being installed in your car (at your expense).

However, those are the penalties simply for being caught driving with a BAC of over 0.08%. The state of Florida enhances jail time penalties if there are aggravating circumstances surrounding a DUI, including:

  • Nine months for a BAC of 0.15% or more
  • Nine months for having a passenger under 18 years old
  • One year if there was an accident involving property damage or minor injuries, and
  • Five years if there was an accident involving serious bodily injury

Note that these penalties are designed to punish the perpetrator only, not to compensate potential victims. That's where civil consequences come into play.

The Civil Consequences of a Florida DUI

There is no such thing as a “civil DUI.” Rather, there are a variety of civil consequences that can follow from the same incident that lead to a DUI conviction. While the purpose of a criminal prosecution for DUI is to punish the offender, the purpose of civil cases against a drunk driver is to compensate any victims for their damages. Note that civil cases against a drunk driver can either follow a criminal prosecution or occur simultaneously. Some of the most common civil consequences of a DUI include:

Civil suits by victims of the accident or their representatives: If there was bodily injury or property damage involved, this is normally compensated by insurance companies. However, if the damage was severe--for example, if someone died--the damages can easily exceed the driver's insurance policy limits. In that case, the victim or their representatives can bring suit directly against the driver for any remaining damages.

Insurance issues: A DUI is a serious offense and makes the offender a high risk for his or her insurance company. As such, a drunk driver's insurance company will either raise their rates or drop them from their policy entirely. This can make it hard to afford insurance or to find a new insurer willing to take on the risk.

Suspension or revocation of driver's license: Driver's licenses are issued and controlled by Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles;2 thus, it is a civil administrative agency. However, the agency will revoke or suspend your driver's license if ordered to do so by the court.

Contact a Clearwater, FL Personal Injury Lawyer

If you've been injured by a drunk driver, please contact the attorneys at the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA for a free consultation by calling 727-451-6900. You can also send us an email through our online contact form.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA

800 North Belcher Road

Clearwater, FL 33765

(727) 451-6900




Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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