Per California’s traffic statutes, it’s every motorist’s responsibility to drive safely. Unfortunately, not all drivers take this responsibility seriously. So many times, accidents occur that involve one motorist who was driving while intoxicated. These crashes may be particularly dangerous since the drunk driver’s reflexes have been hindered, potentially causing significant damage.
California laws clearly state that intoxicated motorists can and should be held accountable if they cause severe and fatal collisions. However, merely knowing the other motorist was intoxicated isn’t sufficient to warrant a liability claim. You need proof to establish your claim. A skilled lawyer can help you collect proof of the drunk-driving crash and pursue damages for you.
There Are Four Primary Steps in Building a DUI Accident Claim/Lawsuit
The process of developing a driving-while-intoxicated accident claim/lawsuit can be divided into four primary steps:
Documenting the accident.
Carrying out an investigation.
Documenting The Accident
Every claim must be supported by proof, and this case is no different. Collecting information concerning the crash and the injuries you sustained is how you make a good start.
Contact the police— informing the authorities that you suspect the other motorist was intoxicated documents the accident and assists in establishing critical proof of the at-fault driver. Essentially, a police report and chemical test (if one was administered) are the best ways of proving the motorist was driving while intoxicated.
Gather information— take the name, license plate number, driver’s license number, VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), insurance policy number, and insurance provider name and phone number of the drunk driver. If you cannot talk to the motorist to exchange insurance and contact information, law enforcement officers can help you obtain it. Also, take videos or photos of property damage, your injuries, and the accident scene. You should note down everything you can recall about the collision as soon as possible afterward. You will need this information when making an insurance claim or filing a lawsuit.
Seek medical attention— whether your injuries were minor or significant, or whether you believe you weren’t injured at all, you should see a doctor and notify them you were in an auto crash. A medical assessment right after the crash will corroborate your claim that the at-fault driver caused your injuries by causing the accident. Also, keep a journal with info relating to healthcare appointments, including who you saw, what kind of treatment you obtained, and whether or not you had to pay any money at that specific visit. After you’re done with your treatment, ask the doctor to give a copy of your medical report and medical records, including diagnostic images such as MRIs or x-rays. Also, collect all the medical bills to do with your treatment.
Carrying Out Through Investigation
Even if the motorist was arrested or cited for drunk driving and eventually pleaded guilty to or convicted of the charge, it doesn’t automatically make you eligible for the compensation. Thus, as with other vehicle accidents, a thorough investigation should hold the drunk driver responsible for the damage they caused.
Your lawyer will gather proof from the accident scene and other sources to build a compelling claim. Examples of evidence you and your lawyer can use to develop a strong drunk driving crash claim include:
Your medical report.
Testimony from witnesses.
The police report.
Forensic evidence (that is, an open container).
Video footage of the collision.
The drunk motorist’s testimony and social media posts.
Testimony from the bartender that served the motorist.
The driver doesn’t have to be above the legal BAC limit for you to have a valid DUI accident claim. Alcoholic beverages impair the capability to operate a vehicle safely. Combine this with the possibility of the intoxicated motorist performing several careless acts— from speeding, making unsafe lane changes to running a red light— and you’ll have several ways of arguing the motorist’s negligence led to your injuries or damage to your property.
If you’re worried because the drunk driver didn’t receive a drunk-driving ticket (for instance, if it was a hit-and-run case) and there weren’t other eyewitnesses to the crash, you can still seek to recover damages.
Demonstrating that the Intoxicated Motorist Caused the Crash
After conducting an investigation, your lawyer may retain one or several experts to assist in proving that the drunk motorist’s negligent act (driving under the influence) caused your loss, injuries, or the death of your loved one. Motorists owe a duty of care to pedestrians and other drivers. Failure to act reasonably to prevent harm to other people when behind the wheel is deemed negligence. The driver could also be considered negligent per se. Negligence per se happens when a person violates a statute enacted to protect pedestrians and other motorists. Put otherwise, violating a law, in and of itself, is proof of negligence.
It’s fairly prevalent for attorneys to involve crash reconstruction experts to help build liability claims. Accident reconstruction experts are people who obtain the available proof, analyze it, and then utilize it to create a computer rendering of the events that happened before, during, and after the accident. Accident reconstruction experts’ computer renderings might be admissible in court as evidence, and they may also carry considerable weight in settlement negotiations with the driver’s insurance company.
The Motorist Need Not Be Convicted to File a Claim
The at-fault driver doesn’t have to be convicted of DUI for you to sue them for damages because California civil liability statutes and criminal laws are different and have different burdens of proof. Criminal drunk-driving statutes are in place to penalize drunk motorists and discourage others from DUI. Guilt has to be proven beyond any reasonable doubt. All the twelve jurors also have to agree unanimously.
On the other hand, civil liability laws are in place to reimburse victims of negligent acts. Liability is proven only by a preponderance of the evidence. By a preponderance of the evidence, it means you only need to show that it’s more likely than not that the driver drove while intoxicated and caused your injuries. Additionally, only nine out of the twelve jurors are supposed to agree.
The Driver’s Conviction Is Proof of Negligence
Although the intoxicated driver doesn’t have to be convicted of intoxication to sue them for damages, their conviction could give you the upper hand in your claim. A drunk-driving conviction is enough to prove the driver was negligent per se. This is because violating a law constitutes per se negligence according to California law.
Therefore, even if the driver avoids a jail sentence by pleading guilty to a dry reckless offense or any other VC violation, it’ll still be considered negligence per se. Keep in mind that it doesn’t work the other way round. Being liable for DUI under civil liability laws doesn’t prove guilt under criminal drunk-driving laws.
However, the driver has the legal right to present evidence proving that their impairment didn’t cause your damages. The evidence could include, but isn’t limited to:
Their impairment didn’t cause the collision.
Your injuries didn’t result from the crash.
Proving the Degree of Your or Your Loved One’s Losses
Apart from proving the intoxicated driver was at fault, you also must show how much you’re eligible for recovering. Your attorney may engage economic and medical experts to evaluate your injuries and damage to property, including your car, then calculate the loss you’ve incurred. This kind of testimony is critical in determining the damages to which you’re entitled.
Records related to auto repairs and vehicle rentals will help the experts determine how much you should recover. These include documentation of any latest repair or improvement you had made to the auto shortly before the crash. For example, if your auto was wrecked in the collision, you could increase the vehicle’s value if you can prove you recently replaced all four tires or costly engine components.
Another thing that can help prove how much compensation you’re eligible for is your medical report. Remember we mentioned that you should see a doctor immediately after the accident and keep a journal of healthcare appointments. The information in the medical report your doctor will give you and your journal will help the experts calculate how much you used to treat your injuries and include it in the compensation claim.
You also have to find all the necessary W-2s, pay stubs, and other proof to support your claim for lost wages or loss of future earning capacity.
Damages You Can Recover in a DUI Accident Claim/Lawsuit
The damages recoverable in a DUI collision claim entirely depend on the victim’s losses. You can recover compensatory damages, which reimburse the actual loss you incurred (or which you’ll incur in the days to come).
Compensatory damages are divided into two— economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages reimburse the direct, easily calculated expenses you incurred due to the DUI accident. They include but aren’t limited to loss of earning capacity, lost wages, medical bills, short- or long-term care, psychological counseling, and occupational/physical rehabilitation.
Non-economic damages are meant to compensate for the negative impact on your health and life that does not have a calculable monetary value. They include but are not limited to loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, mental anguish, pain and suffering, disfigurement, and loss of limb. Remember, to recover compensatory damages, and you’ll have to demonstrate that you suffered those damages due to the driver’s negligent act (DUI).
You Can Also Recover Punitive Damages
California statutes permit victims to recover punitive damages if they’re injured in a DUI accident. However, to recover this compensation, you must show, by clear, convincing proof that the driver acted with malice. In this case, malice doesn’t mean bad intent or evil. Instead, Civil Code 3294(c)(a) dictates when DUI constitutes malice. To prove that the driver acted with malice, you must show that they knew of the potentially dangerous repercussions of their conduct, and they deliberately and willfully failed to prevent those consequences. The Supreme Court of California ruled that malice is met when a person voluntarily drinks alcohol or takes narcotics to the extent of intoxication when they know they must later drive.
Wrongful Death and Survival Action Damages
You could recover damages if your loved one were hit by a drunk driver and died due to the injuries resulting from the impact. In this case, you’ll have to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover compensation. Essentially, wrongful death damages compensate for the loss incurred by close family members due to the decedent’s untimely death. These damages include:
Loss of services
Loss of affection, companionship, assistance, comfort, and consortium
Loss of financial support
Funeral and burial expenses
Loss of the deceased’s guidance and training
Loss of the enjoyment of sexual relations
Only a few people are allowed to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in California, including:
The decedent’s surviving spouse, children, or domestic partner
Putative spouse, stepchildren, stepparents, children of the putative spouse, if they were dependent on the deceased
A survival action is a claim that the dead victim would’ve brought had they survived the crash. This claim is filed by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. And if there’s no personal representative, it can be brought by the deceased’s successor-in-interest. This claim can only be filed if the deceased didn’t die immediately from their injuries.
Damages awarded in a survival action are those your loved one suffered before their death. They include:
Medical expenses for the period the deceased was hospitalized
Physical and mental pain and suffering the dead victim went through before their death
Lost wages the deceased would have earned until their anticipated retirement
What If You Were Partially Responsible for the Collision?
Just because a motorist was driving under the influence doesn’t necessarily mean they were 100% liable for a crash. California follows the pure comparative negligence rule, also called a shared fault. This law allows the jury to allocate fault for a crash between more than one party.
Unlike other states, like Nevada, California law doesn’t dictate that the at-fault party by 50 percent or more liable for the injury to recover damages. You could seek damages from the responsible party even if they were only slightly to blame. However, your damages will be reduced by the percentage of fault you shared. For instance, say you’ve sued for damages from the drunk driver, and your compensation is worth $100,000. However, the jury also determined that you were 60% percent responsible for the crash. In this case, your compensation will be reduced by 60%, and you’ll end up receiving only 40% ($40,000).
Tip: Do Not Settle So Quickly
After you’ve been involved in a DUI accident, the driver’s insurance provider may immediately contact you wanting to settle since they’re seeking to award you the least amount quickly before you notice it.
Settling is tempting since you won’t have to undergo the litigation process, which could take several years. You might also require money as soon as possible to help pay your bills resulting from the injuries you suffered. But before signing anything, there are some things you must know.
If you’re considering settling, you should note the period allowed by the law, within which you can bring a claim. This way, even if you cannot agree on the settlement terms, you’ll still have court protection. In California, DUI accident victims have two years from when the accident occurred to bring a personal injury suit in court. If you are filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you have two years, counted from the day of the death, to do so. And if you are a personal representative, you have two years from the date of the injury or six months after the demise (whichever comes last) to bring a survival action. DUI collisions are treated like other auto accidents. By this, it means that once the two years statute of limitations elapses, you can’t sue for damages anymore.
However, this does not mean you should rush into settling. Most insurers will request you to sign a release of liability form if you agree to a settlement. This will bar you from suing for any other compensation from the auto crash should other injuries manifest in the future, regardless of how severe.
Nothing in California stops you from bringing a lawsuit while the intoxicated motorist is also undergoing criminal prosecution for driving under the influence. But, as we mentioned, if the driver has pleaded guilty or the jury has found them guilty of DUI or other offenses related to DUI, you would be in a better position to settle for a more significant amount.
Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
DUI accident claims require serious representation. You may be eligible for a significant compensation amount, but you need a skilled attorney to help you with filing a claim. At The LA Personal Injury Law Firm, we’ve been serving victims of DUI accidents and other auto accidents for decades, helping them file claims/lawsuits and recover the compensation they deserve. We rely on our experience and expertise at each stage of building a claim on our client’s behalf. Please call us today at 310-935-0089 for case evaluation and help with claiming damages in Los Angeles, CA.