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Drunk Drivers Causing Death or Injury

1. General Rule.  A person can not discharge debts relating to death or personal injury inflicted on another person while he was unlawfully operating a motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft  while intoxicated on alcohol, drugs or other substances. 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(9). It is known as the "Madd Mom" rule because the organization known as "Mothers Against Drunk Driving" lobbied Congress to enact it.       Index

2. Scope of Rule.       Index

2.1. Limited to Personal Injury Only. The rule is limited to debts for personal injury.  It does not cover debts for injury to property.       Index

2.2. Civil judgment not Required.  The scope of the original rule only prevented the discharge of civil damage awards for death or personal injuries inflicted by drunk drivers.  It did not prevent the discharge of a debt that was not reduced to a civil judgment.  In 1990 the rule was expanded significantly to eliminate the requirement that the debt must be reduced to a civil judgment.       Index

2.3. Applies in Chapter 7, 11 and 13 Cases. The original rule was also limited Chapter 7 cases.  It did not apply in Chapter 13 cases. The 1990 amendment also expanded its coverage to Chapter 7, 11 & 13 cases. 11 U.S.C. § 1328(a)(2).       Index

2.4.  Applies to Motor Vehicles, Boats and Airplanes.  The original rule was also limited to incidents involving "motor vehicles."  Before 2005, the courts did not consider boats or airplanes to be "motor vehicles" within the meaning of the statute.   In 2005 the rule was again amended to expand its coverage to the operation of a vessel (boats) and aircraft while intoxicated.       Index

3. Elements of Proof.  A creditor must prove three factual elements to establish that a debt is non-dischargeable under § 523(a)(9):       Index

(a) the debtor is civilly liable for a debt involving death or personal injury;

(b) the incident involved the operation of a motor vehicle, vessel or aircraft;

(c) the operation of vehicle, boat or plane was unlawfull under state law due to the debtor's intoxication.

It is not necessary to establish that the debtor's intoxication caused the injury.  Is sufficient that the debtor was legally intoxicated, as defined by state law, while operating a vehicle in an incident that involved a personal injury.       Index


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