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DUI and Serious Bodily Injury

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What is “Serious Bodily Injury” in a DUI Case?

Every state has laws that cover driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). State DUI and DWI drunk driving laws impose legal penalties for persons who are caught driving while their blood alcohol level is above a certain percentage (0.08% in most states). These penalties may include monetary fines, jail time, and temporary suspension of driving privileges.

However, these legal penalties may be intensified if the DUI involved serious bodily injury to another person. In many jurisdictions, serious bodily injury will result in the DUI being charged as a felony. Felony charges result in more serious consequences, like longer sentences in a prison facility, and a complete loss of driving privileges.    

What is the Definition of “Serious Bodily Injury”?

Each state may define serious bodily injury (SBI) in different ways. Also, some states may use the term “serious bodily harm” (SBH), which generally has the same meaning. Some states such as California have laws that use the term “great bodily injury”, which is a higher level of injury than SBI. 

Broadly speaking, the definition of SBI includes the following conditions:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Extreme physical pain
  • Disfigurement that is obvious or protracted (lasting over long periods of time, such as burn wounds)
  • Permanent or protracted impairment of a bodily organ or member
  • Loss of mental faculties
  • Injuries involving substantial risk of death (such as profuse bleeding)

In a DUI case, serious bodily injury may be proved through medical documentation. Some cases might require the testimony of an expert medical witness to verify the seriousness of the injuries. 

Cases involving the death of another person may be prosecuted differently from DUI cases causing serious bodily injury. If the accident resulted in a fatality, the DUI case will probably be tried under DUI vehicular homicide laws. 

What are the Legal Consequences of DUI-SBI charges?

DUI cases resulting in serious bodily injury will typically be filed under felony drunk driving charges. As mentioned, felonies result in more strict legal consequences than misdemeanor charges. 

In addition to the consequences listed above, felony charges may impose additional requirements on the defendant, such as: mandatory alcohol rehabilitation courses; loss of civic privileges; permanent charges on the person’s record; and mandatory counseling.

Are there any Defenses to DUI Charges?

As with any other DUI case, defenses may be available, even if serious bodily injury is involved.  However, some defenses may only partially relieve the offender of guilt- some defenses only lessen the charges rather than remove them completely. 

Some common DUI defenses include

  • Improper DUI testing (such as a failed breathalyzer exam)
  • Illegal traffic stop or arrest
  • Insufficient evidence for arrest

Do I Need a Lawyer for DUI Charges Involving Serious Bodily Injury?

You have the right to a criminal defense attorney if you are facing DUI charges. It is to your advantage to contact a defense attorney to assist you with your case, especially if the DUI charges involve claims of serious bodily injury. Or, if you have experienced serious bodily injury due another person’s drunk driving, an attorney can help you recover your losses in a court of law.    

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 02-08-2018 11:27 PM PST

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