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Memphis Drunk Driver Car Accident Injury Attorney

Helping injured victims and families in Tennessee find justice and secure compensation

Find Out If You Have a Case

Were you or a loved one hurt by an impaired driver in Memphis or Shelby County, TN?

Personal injury claims that involve criminal charges are more complex. Our award-winning law firm has specialized in cases like these for over 40 years. Let us help you.

When you or a loved one are hurt because someone else made the selfish and reckless choice to get behind the wheel while impaired or intoxicated, it's natural to feel intense anger. This rage is often followed by confusion and frustration about how your bills will get paid and when justice will be served. In such dark and difficult times, it can be helpful to realize that you're not alone.

Shelby County has the second highest rate of drunk driving car accidents in the state. From 2010 to 2020, there were 6,481 known alcohol-related traffic crashes in Shelby County alone—averaging roughly 1-2 per day and accounting for nearly 10 percent of known drunk driving crashes in the state. The only county in Tennessee with a higher crash rate was Davidson County with 7,813 known DUI incidents.

What's disturbing is that the actual number of such crashes is undoubtedly much higher, as these incident statistics from the state exclude crashes that go unreported, collisions that involve an intoxicated driver who fled the scene, accidents that occur in parking lots and on private property as well as crashes with less than $400 in damages.

Drunk or impaired drivers typically face severe criminal penalties such as jail time, license suspension and steep fines for breaking Tennessee's DUI law. However, what's confusing for many accident victims is that a criminal conviction won't help pay the medical bills and other expenses that resulted from your wreck caused by the drunk driver.

The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish the offender for illegal behavior, not to compensate the victims. In order to obtain financial justice and compensation for your injuries and damages, you'll need to pursue other legal options through the civil courts.

At Gilreath & Associates, our Memphis car accident lawyers have proudly served the victims of drunk driving accidents and their families in Memphis, Shelby County and West Tennessee for over 40 years. In that time, Gilreath lawyers have been successful in thousands of cases, helping clients receive just compensation for their injuries and restore their quality of life.


If you or a loved one were seriously injured by a drunk driver, you may be entitled to compensation for your loss.

Contact our Memphis injury attorneys to discuss your legal options and seek justice in your case.

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Drunk Driving Liability & Dram Shop Law

Most car accidents are preventable, and drunk driving crashes are no different.

Typically, the drunk driver is considered "liable" (or legally responsible) for a collision and therefore must pay for the injuries and damages inflicted upon the victim or victims. However, there are times when a bar, restaurant or other licenced establishment that served the drunk driver can also be held liable.

Under Tennessee's "dram shop" statute (57-10-102), an accident victim who was hurt by a drunk driver can seek damages from a vendor if:

  • The vendor sold the alcohol to the intoxicated person,
  • The person who purchased the beverage was a minor under age 21 or was "visibly intoxicated," and
  • The sale of the beverage was a direct cause of the injury.

For example, let's say John was visibly intoxicated at a bar on Beale Street in downtown Memphis. Despite the fact that he was slurring his words and having trouble standing, the bartender gave him another round when John said he wanted one more for the road. On his way home, John lost control of his vehicle and crashed head-on into Samantha, who suffered catastrophic injuries. In this scenario, Samantha could not only sue John for her injuries, but also hold the Beale Street bar liable for her damages under dram shop law.

However, it must be noted that the burden of proof for dram shop claims in Tennessee is higher than most states. You must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that dram shop liability should apply. This tougher standard is why it's important to enlist help from an experienced attorney if you think you have a dram shop claim.

Dram Shop Laws


Dram shop laws hold bars, restaurants and other alcohol-selling establishments responsible for serving an inebriated patron who then causes an accident. Even social hosts can be liable for this type of negligence. Learn more about dram shop laws, drunk driving and how to keep social guests and patrons out of trouble.

Car Accidents: Verdicts & Settlements

When choosing a Tennessee personal injury law firm, an attorney's experience and proven results can make a big difference in your case outcome. Our attorneys represented countless individuals injured in catastrophic automobile crashes. Here are just a few examples of compensation recovered for our clients.


Tennessee Drunk Driving & DUI Penalties

Driving while drunk on alcohol or impaired by any other substance (such as illegal substances or certain prescription drugs) is against the law in Tennessee. Under state law, a person can be charged with the criminal offense of "driving while under the influence" (DUI) if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above the legal limit of .08 for adults (or .02 for drivers under the age of 21). In Tennessee, a BAC of .20 or higher can result in enhanced penalties.

Implied consent laws

Can someone refuse to submit a BAC test by a police officer?

Technically, yes; however, this won't help them avoid the consequences of drinking and driving.

Tennessee's implied consent law (55-10-406) clearly states that:

Any person who drives a motor vehicle in this state is deemed to have given consent to a test or tests for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of that person's blood, a test or tests for the purpose of determining the drug content of the person's blood, or both tests.

The penalties for refusing to take a BAC test include having their driver's license revoked or suspended for 1-5 years—depending on the person's record of prior offenses and if the crash resulted in serious injury or death.

In addition, even if a person refuses the test, they can still be charged with a DUI and the police officer can testify regarding evidence of their intoxication or impairment such as smelling alcohol on their breath, open containers, slurred speech and/or dilated pupils.


DUI criminal penalties

The punishment for a DUI conviction varies depending on the nature of the offense and the person's prior criminal record.

Crime Classification Penalties
1st Offense Class A misdemeanor
  • 48 hours up to 11 months, 29 days in jail
  • $350-$1,500 fine
  • License revocation for 1 year
  • Alcohol and drug treatment program
  • Ignition Interlock Device installed at your expense
2nd Offense Class A misdemeanor
  • 45 days to 11 months, 29 days in jail
  • $600-$3,500 fine
  • License revocation for 2 years
  • Subject to vehicle seizure/forfeiture
  • Alcohol and drug treatment program
  • Ignition Interlock Device installed at your expense
3rd Offense Class A misdemeanor
  • 120 days to 11 months, 29 days in jail
  • $1,100-$10,000 fine
  • License revocation for 6 years
  • Subject to vehicle seizure/forfeiture
  • Alcohol and drug treatment program
  • Ignition Interlock Device installed at your expense
4th & Subsequent Offenses Class E felony
  • 1 year (365) days in jail (with a minimum of 150 consecutive days served)
  • $3,000-$15,000 fine
  • License revocation for 8 years
  • Subject to vehicle seizure/forfeiture
  • Alcohol and drug treatment program
  • Ignition Interlock Device installed at your expense
Vehicular Assault (Serious injury to another person by a DUI driver) Class D felony
  • 2 to 12 years in jail
  • License revocation from 1 to 5 years
  • Fines and court costs
Child Endangerment (DUI with passenger under 18 years old) Class D felony (if child suffered serious injury) OR Class B felony (if child death involved)

For Class D felony

  • 2 to 12 years in jail
  • Fine of up to $5,000
  • License revocation

For Class B felony

  • 8 to 30 years in jail
  • Fine of up to $25,000
  • License revocation
Vehicular Homicide Class B felony
  • 8 to 30 years in jail
  • Fine of up to $25,000
  • License revocation for 3-10 years
Aggravated Vehicular Assault While Driving Intoxicated Class A felony
  • 15 to 60 years in jail
  • Fine of up to $50,000
  • License revocation

Source: https://www.tn.gov/safety/publicsafety/duioutline.html

Drunk Driving Car Accident Damages

While understanding the criminal penalties a drunk driver may face can give accident victims some peace of mind knowing that justice is served, such punitive actions fail to address the life-changing financial, physical and emotional damages inflicted upon victims of drunk driving and their families.

At Gilreath & Associates, our Memphis personal injury attorneys help accident victims recover the following damages:

  • Pain and suffering. Serious physical injuries often give rise to emotional trauma and pain. This pain and suffering can be reimbursed up to $750,000—or up to $1,000,000 in cases of catastrophic loss or injury.
  • Medical expenses. From emergency medical care to ongoing therapy and treatment, any medical costs (past and future) that arise as a result of the crash should be covered by the at-fault driver or their insurance company.
  • Lost wages. If you were forced to miss work due to your injuries, or if you are permanently disabled and unable to make a living, these costs (past and future) should be covered by the at-fault driver.
  • Property damage. Whatever property damage you sustained during the crash should be fully and properly compensated for, including your vehicle and other belongings that were damaged.
  • Wrongful death. If you lost a loved one because of a drunk driver, you may be able to pursue additional damages such as funeral and burial expenses, loss of consortium and more.

Punitive damages

In addition to these damages, punitive damages may be awarded in certain cases as a form of punishment when the defendant's behavior is considered particularly egregious. Tennessee law (29-39-104) states that:

Punitive damages may only be awarded if the claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant against whom punitive damages are sought acted maliciously, intentionally, fraudulently or recklessly.

Punitive damages are not commonly awarded in personal injury cases and are only granted at the court's discretion; however, such compensation is indeed more likely when an auto accident involves an impaired driver. In such cases, it's vital to have an experienced attorney by your side fighting for just compensation.

When to Contact a Memphis Accident Attorney

It's important to understand that criminal DUI charges are different from a personal injury (civil) lawsuit. While a criminal conviction can help strengthen your civil case due to the legal concept of negligence per se, the burden of proof for convicting someone of a crime is higher than the bar needed to secure a favorable outcome in your car accident lawsuit. For this reason, it is possible to win your personal injury case even if the at-fault driver isn't convicted of a DUI.

However, time is of the essence when it comes to drunk driving injury cases. Evidence can get lost and witnesses move away, so the longer you delay consulting an attorney, the harder it will be to prove your claim. On top of that, the statute of limitations for car accident claims in Tennessee is just 1 year from the date of the crash—a short deadline compared to other states.

If you or a loved one were seriously hurt by a drunk driver, know that you're not alone. At Gilreath & Associates, we serve the people of Memphis and throughout Tennessee in the most challenging car accident cases.

For the last 40+ years, we've stood alongside accident victims and fought vigorously for their right to justice and compensation. Whether it's gathering evidence to prove that a driver was impaired or securing punitive damages, we aren't afraid to do what needs to be done to secure financial relief for you and your family.

By hiring an experienced and professional attorney to represent you, you can even the playing field and turn the odds of winning in your favor. From our law office in the heart of downtown Memphis on Jefferson Ave., we serve people in West Tennessee and across the southeast by securing the best possible outcome in their personal injury and accident cases. When you're ready to learn more about how we can help you, we invite you to reach out.

Ready to discuss your case?
Contact our Tennessee car accident attorneys today for your free consultation.

Frequently Asked Personal Injury Questions

  • What should I do if I have a car accident in Tennessee or elsewhere?
  • What not to do after a car accident in Tennessee?
  • What should I do after I have left the scene of the car accident?
  • What if the other driver is at fault and has no insurance?
  • Will my policy pay for a rental car if my car is damaged?
  • If my car is totaled, will insurance pay off my car note?
  • What is the meaning of "subrogation" when applied to my automobile insurance?

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Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyers at Gilreath & Associates offer free and personal consultation to help you evaluate your legal options.
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