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DUI Judgments are Never Dischargeable in Bankruptcy

Most people know that alimony and child support obligations can never be discharged in bankruptcy. The media and politicians are very fond of reminding people that student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy (though there are some exceptions to this rule).

While those two exceptions to bankruptcy law are well-known, there are also several other types of debts that can never be discharged in Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Among those debts are judgments incurred from driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Bankruptcy Offers No Relief for Debts from Injuries or Death Caused by Drunk Driving

Under the Bankruptcy Code, either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy “does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt . . . for death or personal injury caused by the debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle . . . if such operation was unlawful because the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance.”

What this means is that if you have been involved in a car accident and are found to have been under the influence at the time of the accidents, then if the person you hit sues you in civil court and receives an award, this judgment cannot be discharged in bankruptcy regardless of how large it may be. Other personal injury judgments that did not involve drunk driving can still be discharged in bankruptcy.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers California, has held that this section of the Bankruptcy Code also applies to any judgment for property damage.

Defining Unlawful Intoxication in Bankruptcy Cases

Notice, however, that the language used by the bankruptcy code is substantially broader than many criminal statutes. It does not require a criminal conviction for driving under the influence, nor does it require that the driver had a 0.08 BAC to establish intoxication.

This has given rise to several unique situations. For example, if you were involved in an accident after having one or two beers but never charged with driving under the influence, it’s likely that this was not the “unlawful” operation of a vehicle after drinking, and thus any debts arising from this accident could be discharged in bankruptcy.

However, if you are charged with driving under the influence related to an accident and acquitted, this may not automatically mean that any debts that arise from that accident are dischargeable. In a criminal case, intoxication and guilt must be established “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a very high standard, while negligence and intoxication must only be shown “by the preponderance of the evidence” at a civil trial.

This means that while you may be found not guilty of drunk driving in a criminal case, establishing liability for intoxicated driving in a civil case could be enough to show unlawful operation for the purposes of the Bankruptcy Code, making a debt nondischargeable in either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Thinking About Filing for Bankruptcy?

There’s a lot to know about what debts can and cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. The Law Offices of Melanie Tavare of Oakland and Hayward can discuss with you whether Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is appropriate for your situation. Contact the Law Offices of Melane Tavare online or call our office 510-255-4646 to speak with an attorney.

The Law Offices of Melanie Tavare is a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief under the Bankruptcy Code.

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