Learn how to recover damages after a drunk driving accident in the Show-Me State
Roughly 25% of all fatal accidents in Missouri are caused by intoxicated drivers.
There are 3.9 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities per 100,000 people in Missouri, more than the national average of 3.2.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at drunk driving accidents in the Show-Me State, including the legal limits and penalties, as well as how drunk driving accidents may impact personal injury claims.
What is the legal alcohol limit for drivers in Missouri?
Missouri's drunk driving laws can be found in Chapter 577 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.
Under Missouri Revised Statute § 577.012, you can be convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) without any additional evidence if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) reaches 0.08%. This is called a “per se DWI.”
For 2 specific groups of people, the legal alcohol limit is even lower:
- Anyone under the legal drinking age of 21 years can be convicted of a per se DWI with a BAC of 0.02% or greater.
- Any commercial driver can be convicted of a per se DWA with a BAC of 0.04% or greater.
Can I be convicted of a DWI charge if my BAC is below the legal limit in Missouri?
You can be charged with a DWI if you operate a vehicle while in an “intoxicated condition.” This is called an “impairment DWI.”
To establish an impairment DWI, the prosecution has to prove the following elements:
- Impaired ability. The defendant’s ability to operate a motor vehicle was impaired.
- Presence of the substance. The presence of alcohol, a drug, or a controlled substance was in the defendant’s body at the time of the alleged offense, and
- Causation. The presence of the substance caused the impairment.
Evidence that may be used to support a decision that a person is affected by alcohol or drugs may include:
- Erratic driving
- Poor performance on a field sobriety test
- Slurred speech
- Odd behavior
- An admission of being impaired
In State of Missouri v. Robert Meanor, the state argued that the defendant was operating his vehicle in an intoxicated condition even though his BAC was under the legal limit (.02%).
The evidence the state presented to support their argument included the following:
- The driver was driving on the wrong side of the road when he collided with an oncoming car
- The drive smelled of intoxicants and burnt marijuana
- A device used to smoke marijuana was found within the driver’s reach
- The driver had slurred speech and glassy eyes
The Missouri Supreme Court agreed with the state, ruling that the driver’s intoxicated condition was “clearly inferable from the circumstantial evidence in the case.”
Do I have to consent to a BAC test or a field sobriety test?
Missouri’s implied consent law requires anyone who operates a vehicle to submit to a sobriety test if stopped by a law enforcement officer who has reasonable grounds to believe the person has been driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
If the person refuses to submit to a test, their license will automatically be suspended for 1 year (even if the charge is later thrown out) and evidence of their refusal can be used against them in a criminal trial.
What are the penalties for driving while intoxicated in Missouri?
The penalties for driving under the influence in Missouri depend on whether you’ve previously been convicted of a DWI:
|Missouri drunk driving penalties|
|1st offense||Up to 6 months||Up to $1,000||90-day suspension (possible restricted driving privileges)|
|2nd offense||Up to 1 year||Up to $2,000||1-year suspension (5-year suspension if the 2nd offense is within 5 years of the 1st offense)|
|3rd offense||Up to 4 years||Up to $10,000||10-year suspension|
In addition to the penalties above, points are added to a person’s Missouri driving record for any intoxication-related conviction.
How does a DWI impact a personal injury lawsuit?
If you suffer property damage or are injured in an accident caused by an intoxicated driver, you can file an insurance claim as you would in any other car accident.
You may need to file a personal injury lawsuit against the intoxicated driver if:
- The driver is uninsured (and you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage)
- The insurance company doesn’t offer you enough money to settle your claim, or
- Your damages exceed the driver’s policy limits.
Can I sue the establishment that served the drunk driver who hit me?
Dram shop laws hold establishments that sell alcohol (restaurants, bars, theaters, etc.) legally responsible for serving intoxicated patrons who later cause an accident.
Missouri’s dram shop law can be found in Missouri Revised Statute § 537.053. The law, which is stricter than the dram shop laws in most states, says that an establishment will be liable for damages caused by an intoxicated patron if it can be proven by clear and convincing evidence that:
- The establishment sold alcohol to a patron who they knew (or should have known) was “visibly intoxicated“ or under the legal drinking age,
- The patron consumed the alcohol sold by the establishment, and
- The consumption of alcohol was the cause of the injury or death.
The term “visibly intoxicated” means a person who is “inebriated to such an extent that the impairment is shown by significantly uncoordinated physical action or significant physical dysfunction.”
How can I spot a drunk driver?
The best way to avoid a drunk driving accident is to avoid drunk drivers. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) lists these tips for how to spot a car operated by an intoxicated driver:
- Quick acceleration or deceleration
- Weaving or zig-zagging across the road
- Driving anywhere other than on a road designated for vehicles
- Almost striking an object, curb, or vehicle
- Stopping without cause or erratic braking
- Drifting in and out of traffic lanes
- Signaling that is inconsistent with driving actions
- Slow response to traffic signals (e.g. sudden stop or delayed start)
- Straddling the center lane marker
- Driving with headlights off at night
- Driving slower than 10 mph below the speed limit
- Turning abruptly or illegally
- Driving into opposing traffic on the wrong side of the road