DUI Car Accidents & Personal Injury in Bankruptcy

Many people who file chapter 7 bankruptcy have some debt from previous car accidents. That debt usually results from a lack of insurance when the other car was damaged in an auto accident. In some cases, the debt is the result of a personal injury lawsuit. While in the majority of cases debts resulting from car accidents can be eliminated in chapter 7 bankruptcy, sometimes the debt results from a DUI car accident that caused personal injury. In that case, the Bankruptcy Code denies discharge for personal injury resulting from drunk driving.

Bankruptcy Code: 523(a)(9)

Congress sought to protect victims of drunk driving when they adopted Section 523(a)(9) of the bankruptcy code concerning dischargeability of debt.

We think it evident that Congress sought three objectives when it adopted § 523(a)(9): (1) to deter drunk driving; (2) to ensure that those who caused injury by driving drunk did not escape civil liability through the bankruptcy laws; and (3) to protect victims of drunk driving.

In re Hudson

To further the protection of personal injury DUI victims Congress enacted § 523(a)(9) which reads:

A discharge under… this title does not discharge an individual debtor from any debt…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


In essence, to except the debt from discharge the creditor, usually through their personal injury attorney, must prove that the debt is for death or personal injury resulting from the debtor’s operation of a car while intoxicated. In the majority of cases the creditor will use the State Court judgment to establish that fact, but it’s not required. A creditor can establish the elements before the bankruptcy court without a state court judgment. Those elements as articulated in In re Felski are:

the debt resulted from (1) a death or personal injury, (2) caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by the debtor, and (3) the unlawfulness of the operation because the debtor was intoxicated from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance. 

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