Drunk Driving Victim Lawyer

In California, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is illegal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop people from getting behind the wheel when they’re intoxicated. In 2017 alone, 123,548 drivers were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

In that same year, 26,967 people were injured and 1,294 people were killed in alcohol-involved crashes. An additional 2,982 people were hurt and 829 people were killed in accidents with drugged drivers.

These statistics are scary — and demonstrate the scope of the problem in the state of California. If you are hurt in an accident with a drunk driver, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. A seasoned drunk driving victim lawyer in California can work with you to file a lawsuit and take on the insurance company for you.

The Frightening Truth About DUI Accidents In California

Drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs is an alarming problem throughout the United States and the state of California is no exception. In fact, out of the 10,874 deaths resulting from drunk driving across the entire United States in 2017, more than 10% of them occurred within California’s borders.

Recent data published by the Foundation For Advanced Alcohol Responsibility shows some truly frightening statistics about intoxicated drivers traveling on California’s roadways in the midst of innocent motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians:

  • 31% of all auto accident fatalities in California involved drunk drivers.
  • Alcohol-related fatalities per 100k California residents have risen by nearly 10% in the past 10 years.
  • 65% of drunk driving accidents resulting in fatalities involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above .15, far above the legal limit BAC of 0.8% for most drivers.
  • 31% of fatal crashes involving drunk drivers with a BAC of .08 to .14 were repeat offenders.
  • 69% of fatal crashes involving drunk drivers with a BAC of .15 or higher were repeat offenders.

California’s DUI Laws

Under California law, a person may be charged with driving under the influence if they operate a vehicle with a certain blood alcohol content (BAC), or if they operate a vehicle while their ability to drive is impaired by drugs and/or alcohol. For purposes of California’s DUI laws, taking any type of drug — including prescription and over-the-counter medications — can lead to a DUI charge.

When a drunk driver is arrested and charged with a crime, this may provide a sense of justice to DUI accident victims and their loved ones. However, even if a driver is convicted of the charges against them, it won’t help the victims recover financially. Criminal charges and prosecution in criminal court are intended mainly to punish the criminal—in this case, the drunk driver—not to help the victim(s).

If a person is injured in a DUI accident, they can file a lawsuit against the responsible driver in civil court. To win this type of lawsuit, the drunk driving victim will need to prove that (1) the driver was negligent, and (2) as a result of this negligence, another person was hurt. 

Negligence is a legal term that means that a person failed to act with the care that a reasonable person would in a similar situation. There are four elements to negligence:

  1. Duty: the driver (defendant) owed a duty of care to the victim (plaintiff);
  2. Breach: the defendant breached, or violated, that duty;
  3. Causation: this violation was the proximate (or “but for”) cause of the accident; and
  4. Damages: the plaintiff suffered losses as a result.

In drunk driving cases, an injury victim may not have to prove these four elements of negligence. Instead, the drunk or drugged driver may be deemed “negligent per se.” Under California’s negligence per se law, a defendant is presumed to be negligent if they violate a law, statute, or ordinance, and this violation causes an injury of the type that the law was intended to prevent.

This law makes it easier for plaintiffs to prove that a drunk driver was at fault for their injuries. While the defendant can rebut the presumption of negligence, the plaintiff will not have to go through the process to show that the driver was negligent. 

The High Cost Of California Drunk Driving Accidents

According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, motor vehicle fatalities cost the state of California about $4.48 billion per year, when accounting for medical bills and lost work time. With 31% of all fatal accident cases involving alcohol, we can estimate that DUI fatalities cost the state of California approximately $1.4 billion dollars every year. Keep in mind that those figures are only for DUI accidents involving deaths. If we were to expand the costs to include all alcohol-related motor vehicle injuries, the costs would be much, much higher.

On a personal level, the sudden financial responsibilities brought on by a DUI accident can become a major source of stress. Even with medical insurance, many people will have to pay a significant amount of money out of pocket for their medical expenses. 

DUI accidents often lead to serious injuries or even death. Common DUI accident injuries include:

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Fractures or broken bones
  • Spinal cord injuries (paralysis)
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Lacerations
  • Scarring
  • Disfigurement
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Internal bleeding
  • Internal organ damage
  • Injuries to the legs and knees

Treatment for these and other injuries may be required for months or years after a drunk driving crash, putting an incredibly high financial burden on survivors and their family members.

Beyond medical expenses, DUI victims often face lost wages from being out of work, reduced earning capacity, and damage to their vehicles and other property. In addition, many injury victims find themselves enduring significant pain, suffering, and emotional distress after a drunk driving collision. 

By filing a lawsuit against a drunk driver, you can recover compensation for these and other expenses. A skilled California drunk driving accident lawyer can help with the process, starting with a free consultation to advise you of your legal rights and options for moving forward with a claim.

How A DUI Accident Attorney Can Help Victims

After a DUI accident, you may not know where to turn for help. The driver may have been arrested, but how can you get the compensation that you need to recover from your injuries?

In these situations, a drunk driving victim lawyer can advocate for you and ensure that you get the money that you need to pay your bills and cover the full range of your losses. Most personal injury lawyers offer free initial consultations, where you can meet with an attorney and get advice on your case. 

If you decide to file a claim, your lawyer will start by conducting a thorough investigation — reviewing police reports, seeking witnesses, and more. They will also conduct legal research to determine who may be brought into a drunk driving lawsuit. In limited cases, the person or business who provided the alcohol to the drunk driver may be named as a defendant in the case under California’s dram shop law.

Once the legal and factual research is complete, they will file a demand letter with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This letter will outline the facts of the case, the legal reasons why their insured is at fault, and a demand for damages. This typically starts the negotiation process.

In a drunk driving accident case, you may be able to seek financial compensation for:

  • Property damage
  • Medical expenses (past, ongoing, and future)
  • Lost wages and/or future employment capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Permanent disability
  • Assistive devices such as wheelchairs or special furniture
  • Modifications to your home such as wheelchair ramps
  • Required modifications to your car such as specialized controls 
  • At-home medical care
  • Wrongful death

You may also be able to request punitive damages in a drunk driving claim. Generally, punitive damages are not available in personal injury cases because they are meant to penalize intentional or reckless conduct. However, in drunk driving cases, you can request punitive damages by showing that the drunk driver showed a conscious disregard for the safety of others by becoming intoxicated even while knowing that he or she would have to operate a motor vehicle afterward.

Most personal injury cases — including drunk driving claims — are settled out of court. However, if the insurance company refuses to offer you a fair settlement, or if it disputes some aspect of your claim, then you may take your case to court. There, your DUI accident victim attorney will present evidence to show that the defendant was responsible for your injuries, and ask the jury to return a verdict in your favor.

How Does the Criminal Case Affect My Personal Injury Claim?

In a drunk driving crash, the impaired driver will likely face two separate legal matters: a criminal charge and a personal injury lawsuit. As the injured victim, you may be confused by how these two cases interact.

First, it is important to know that a driver does not have to be convicted of a DUI before you can file a civil lawsuit. If you are hurt by a drunk driver, you don’t have to wait for the criminal case to be resolved before pursuing your own claim. 

Second, criminal and civil cases have different burdens of proof. In a criminal trial, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In civil court, you only need to establish liability by a “preponderance of the evidence,” which means that it is more likely than not that the defendant drove under the influence and hurt you. This is a much lower standard. As a result, even if the drunk driver is not convicted of a DUI offense, you can still seek compensation for your losses with the help of a personal injury attorney.

Third, a DUI conviction is enough to prove that a defendant was “negligent per se.” Even if the driver pleads to a lesser charge, such as wet reckless, it can still be used to establish negligence per se. However, being found liable in a civil lawsuit will not affect the defendant’s criminal case.

A Bar Over Served the Driver Who Hurt Me. Can I Sue the Bar?

California’s dram shop law significantly limits the ability of a DUI injury victim to recover compensation for their losses. Generally, California law limits liability to the driver who consumed alcohol and then drove — and does not allow most lawsuits against bars, restaurants, or others who served the alcohol. 

There are limited exceptions to this rule. First, if a parent, guardian, or another adult knowingly furnishes alcohol to a minor (under the age of 21) at their home, they could be held responsible for any injuries that result. Second, if a business that is licensed to sell alcohol sells or provides alcohol to an obviously intoxicated minor, they could be held responsible for any injuries that occur.

Will the Drunk Driver’s Insurance Cover My Claim?

Most California car insurance policies cover damages when their insured injures someone while driving under the influence. However, these policies only cover compensatory damages — not punitive damages. California public policy prohibits the payment of punitive damage awards by insurance companies. Instead, if you want to recover punitive damages, you will have to sue the defendant directly.

Compensatory damages are meant to compensate an injury victim for their losses. They include both economic and non-economic losses. Economic damages compensate a person for their tangible losses, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. Non-economic damages are meant to address intangible losses, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

If the at-fault driver is uninsured or lacks enough insurance to cover your losses, you may be able to file a claim against your own insurance policy if you have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM). An experienced California car accident lawyer can review your case and help you determine the best course of action.

Speak To An Experienced California Drunk Driving Accident Attorney

At Appel Law Firm LLP, our team of car accident attorneys has more than 60 years of combined experience representing people who have been hurt in California DUI accidents. We understand that these cases are different from other types of car crash claims, and use our knowledge of personal injury laws to help our clients get the highest possible recovery. 

Based in Walnut Creek, we help Californians throughout the San Francisco Bay area who have been hurt in all types of accidents. We handle all cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that you never pay a fee unless we recover money for you. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation with a car accident attorney, call us at (925) 938-2000 or fill out our online contact form.