Bankruptcy and the Holidays: One More Reason Not to Drive Under the Influence

Bankruptcy cannot help you if you drink and drive, cause an accident, and hurt somebody.

 

There are plenty of reasons not to drink and drive, and we won’t recite the familiar list of all the bad things that could happen if you do. But during the holidays it may just help to make sure that you are fully aware of just one other self-serving reason that may have not been on your list.  

And besides maybe helping you, this information may be even more important to pass on your friends or family. And it may just give you enough extra inducement to intervene and not let somebody else get on the road impaired.

Personal Injury or Death from Driving while Intoxicated

If you DO drink and drive and hurt somebody, you will not get financial relief from the usual place of last resort for dealing with financial debts, the bankruptcy court. If you operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit and have an accident causing someone personal injury—or death–you will be stuck with that liability. That could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, or potentially even a few million. We’re a talking life-ruining event. For your victim(s), of course. But also for you, weighed down by a monster debt that you can never get away from.

Injury Doesn’t Need to be Caused by Your Intoxication

The language of the applicable Bankruptcy Code provision seems to make clear that the injury does not even need to be directly caused by your intoxication. Rather, if your operation of the vehicle was unlawful—merely by being over the legal limit—and you caused a personal injury or death, then the financial claims against you from that injury or death could not be discharged.

You may not have been significantly impaired (or at least not felt that you were), and the accident may have happened even if you had had no alcohol in your system at all. But that doesn’t help you here. The accident did not have to be caused by your impairment. Merely driving illegally based on your blood alcohol level is itself enough, along with an injury-causing accident, to make it impossible to discharge your resulting liability.

Chapter 13 Super-Discharge Does Not Help Either

The discharge of debts that you can receive for paying part of your debts for three to five years in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” case covers a couple more categories of debts than a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” discharge does (and in the past the Chapter 13 “super-discharge” covered much, much more). But the law is clear that this exception to discharge applies to Chapter 13 just as it does to Chapter 7. (See Section 1328(a)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code.)

Also Applies to Intoxication by Drugs or Any Other Source; Don’t Try it in a Boat or a Plane Either

This exception to discharge explicitly includes intoxication “from using alcohol, a drug, or another substance.” And it applies to injuries “caused by a debtor’s operation of a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft”—these terms are not defined in the Code but clearly extend the exception to drunk boating and flying accidents.

 

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