By Alfred Villoch, III, with Savage, Combs & Villoch, PLLC
For the honest but unfortunate debtor, bankruptcy will discharge your unsecured debts and give you the fresh start that you need to rebuild your life and strengthen your financial well being. But then there are certain debts that are simply inescapable, even in bankruptcy. One inescapable debt is a debt arising from injuring or killing someone while driving, boating, or flying intoxicated.
Section 523(9) of the United States Bankruptcy Code states that a person cannot discharge debts “for death or personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft if such operation was unlawful because the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance.” Before this section, there existed an unconscionable loophole where drunk drivers could evade financial responsibility for the injuries that they caused.
By creating this exception to discharge, Congress had three objectives: (1) to deter drunk driving; (2) to ensure that those who cause injuries by drunk driving did not escape civil liability through bankruptcy laws; and (3) to protect victims of drunk driving.
Importantly, both compensatory and punitive damages are nondischargeable. A state conviction or even a blood alcohol test are not necessary (although those usually naturally follow). Rather Judgments are nondischargeable upon a mere showing that the debtor was driving while intoxicated without showing that the intoxication was the principal or sole cause of the accident. Contreras v. Dale (In re Dale), 199 B.R. 1014, 1022 (Bankr. S.D. Fla. 1995) (citing State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Kupinsky, 133 Bankr. 993 (S.D. Ill. 1991)).
In short, if there wasn’t enough reasons to avoid intoxicated driving, bankruptcy will not protect you if you injure someone while driving, boating, or flying intoxicated. There is no requirement that intoxication be the principal or sole cause of the accident. So long as you were intoxicated during the accident, the debt arising from that act is nondischargeable. If you or someone you know has any legal questions, including about bankruptcy, please contact Alfred Villoch, at Savage, Combs & Villoch, PLLC. The website is www.savagelaw.us, and the telephone number is 813-200-0013.