Missouri Drunk Driving Accident Laws

St. Louis Drunk Driving Accident Lawyers

Ultimate Guide to Missouri Drunk Driving Accident Laws

Driving under the influence (DUI), also called driving while intoxicated (DWI), is illegal everywhere in the United States. The Code of Federal Regulations Title 36, Chapter 1, §4.23 states that a driver is considered to be driving drunk with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or greater. The punishments for a DWI in St. Louis and Missouri are laid out in Missouri Revised Statute §577.010.

Below you can find a comprehensive guide to Missouri's drunk driving accident laws. If you or a loved one has been injured by a drunk driver, call the St. Louis car accident lawyers of Halvorsen Klote today at 877-51-HKLAW or contact us online for a free case review.

Negligence Per Se in St. Louis, Missouri Drunk Driving Accidents

Negligence per se is a doctrine in Missouri tort law that says that anyone who breaks the law and injures you is automatically liable for your injuries.

Typically in a tort case, your personal injury lawyer will have to prove the five elements of negligence in order to hold someone liable for your injuries. The elements are:

  1. Duty of care
  2. Breach of care
  3. Cause in fact, or actual cause
  4. Proximate cause
  5. Harm

Anyone who drives in Missouri owes you a duty of care. Under negligence per se, anyone who drives drunk automatically breaches their duty of care, as drunk driving is illegal. So, the burden of proof for the first two elements are essentially eliminated; you will only have to prove that the driver was drunk and that your car accident caused your injuries.

Dram Shop Laws in St. Louis, Missouri Drunk Driving Accidents

While a drunk driver is automatically liable for your injuries, licensed alcohol vendors in Missouri can also be found liable for your injuries if they knowingly overserved a patron who later caused your accident. This is commonly referred to as the Dram Shop Rule.

Missouri Revised Statute §167;537.053 generally prohibits dram shop liability. There two important exceptions where you can still make a claim:

  1. If the patron was "visibly intoxicated," meaning they displayed:
    • Significantly uncoordinated physical action
    • Significant physical dysfunction
  2. If the bar, restaurant or employee knew or "should have known" that the patron was under the age of 21

Revised Statute §537.053 also states that a blood alcohol content above .08% alone is not prima facie, or legally sufficient to support liability of an alcohol vendor. You and your drunk driving accident lawyers will have to prove the establishment and their employees witnessed physical impairment, such as:

  • Stumbling or falling
  • Slurring when they talk
  • Spilling their drink
  • Knocking objects or other people over
  • Significantly impaired motor movements

The alcohol sold must be meant to drink on the premises, such as in a restaurant or bar. So you would not be able to make a claim against a liquor store or grocery store.

Social Host Liability in St. Louis, Missouri Drunk Driving Accidents

Some states allow you to file a claim against a "social host," for example someone who hosts a party at their house, where someone drinks too much and later causes an accident. Missouri is not one of those states, even if the driver is a minor, according to Zeller v. Scafe 498 S.W.3d 846 (Mo. Ct. App. 2016).

Ultimate Guide To Missouri Drunk Driving Laws | St. Louis Drunk Driving Accident Attorney

Punitive Damages for St. Louis, Missouri Drunk Driving Accidents

One difference between drunk driving lawsuits and typical personal injury claims is that a plaintiff can often seek punitive damages, also called exemplary damages in Missouri. While actual or compensatory damages, such as economic loss and pain and suffering, are intended to compensate you for your injuries and related expenses, punitive damages are generally awarded to punish the defendant for extreme misconduct, deter future misconduct and set a public example.

Typically, you could seek punitive damages in drunk driving cases because the driver showed a deliberate disregard for your safety . Recently, the Missouri state legislature passed Senate Bill 591, which came into effect on August 28, 2020. The bill raised the burden of proof for awarding punitive damages in St. Louis and Missouri. Specifically, you and your drunk driving injury lawyers must show, by "clear and convincing evidence," that the defendant:

    intentionally caused damage to the plaintiff or demonstrated malicious misconduct that caused damage to the plaintiff

The bill was specifically enacted in regards to medical malpractice cases, so it is not immediately clear how it will affect car accident or drunk driving cases. The St. Louis drunk driving accident lawyers of HK Law will pursue every possible avenue to get you the best compensation possible and hold drunk drivers accountable.

Missouri Revised Statute §510.261 stipulates that in order to be awarded punitive damages, you must be awarded compensatory damages.

Under Missouri law, half of the punitive damages you are awarded will go to the state's Tort Victims' Compensation Fund.

How Does a DWI Criminal Case Affect My Civil Claim in St. Louis, Missouri?

If somebody drives drunk and injures another person, the state will pursue a criminal case as they would against anybody who is caught breaking the law. Many people who were injured by a drunk driver have questions concerning how the drunk driver's criminal case affects their personal injury claim. Criminal cases are meant to punish drunk drivers, deter future drunk driving and keep dangerous people off of the roads. Civil cases are meant to compensate you for your damages. Some common questions our drunk driving accident lawyers receive are:

Do I Still Have a Claim if the Drunk Driver Was Found Not Guilty?

Yes. While a criminal conviction would likely help your case, it does not have a direct effect on your claim or prevent you from making one.

Is the Burden of Proof Different in a Civil Case and Criminal Case?

Yes. In a criminal case, the prosecutor will have to prove that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That means that something such as small errors in the police report may allow the defense lawyer to get them out of charges.

In a civil case, the burden of proof is what's called a preponderance of evidence, meaning your drunk driving accident attorney will only have to prove that it is more likely than not that the driver was drunk. A police report that contains errors would still be able to be used as evidence.

In a civil case, the burden of proof may be lower, but you will still have to prove that the drunk driver caused the accident and caused your injuries. In a criminal case, the state does not have to prove anything except that the driver was intoxicated.

Can the Drunk Driver Use the Fifth Amendment?

Yes, but its application is not as strong in civil cases. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows for a defendant to refuse to answer questions in legal proceedings. In a criminal case, if a drunk driver pleads the fifth, the state, judge and jury may not use it to infer guilt. However, in civil cases pleading the Fifth can be used as an implication of liability (Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308 (1976)).

Should I Wait Until the Criminal Case Is Over to File a Personal Injury Claim?

No. The Missouri Statute of Limitations sets deadlines on when you can file personal injury claims, and criminal cases are often delayed. It's imperative to speak to a drunk driving accident lawyer immediately after you are injured by a drunk driver. The drunk driving accident lawyers of Halvorsen Klote will collect evidence for your civil case while monitoring your criminal case.

Call HK Law Today

St. Louis Drunk Driving Accident Lawyers | Halvorsen Klote

When you hire our St. Louis drunk driving accident lawyers, we keep you informed throughout your entire case and are available to answer any questions you have about your case 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you have any more questions about drunk driving personal injury claims in Missouri, or want to know if you have a drunk driving injury case, call HK Law's St. Louis drunk driving accident lawyers today at 877-51-HKLAW or contact us online.


Joel Halvorsen

Joel Halvorsen

Attorney at Law

Joel Halvorsen and his partner Greg Klote founded the Halvorsen Klote law firm on the principle that injured people and their families should have access to the same quality legal representation as large insurance companies.


Greg Klote

Greg Klote

Attorney at Law

Greg Klote is a partner and founder of Halvorsen Klote.

Greg has successfully fought for people who were injured through no fault of their own. He became a lawyer to help make a difference in the lives of those who have been wronged and treated unfairly.


Samantha Orlowski

Samantha Orlowski

Attorney at Law

Samantha Orlowski is a practicing attorney Halvorsen Klote.

Samantha joined Halvorsen Klote in 2018 as a law clerk and has since become a practicing attorney. Sam's number one priority is to provide individualized experiences for each client to achieve the best results.