Despite the law making it an offense to get behind the wheel when drunk and much awareness being created on the dangers of drunk driving, people continue to drive while intoxicated. Alcohol-related auto accidents result in life-altering injuries and even death. It is normal to feel stressed and upset after being injured or losing a loved one, but it’s even more painful if a drunk driver caused the crash. The medical expenses lost wages, and pain and suffering can be shattering. What the victims of these accidents don’t know is that they can hold the drunk driver who caused the accident liable for their injuries because drunk driving is negligence. At The LA Personal Injury Law Firm, our attorneys are committed to helping you as a victim of a car accident caused by a drunk driver get justice.  

California Drunk Driving Laws

As per California VC 23153 (a), people who are intoxicated by an alcoholic beverage are forbidden from operating a car. They are forbidden to neglect any duty imposed on them by law while driving, which leads to injuries of other persons aside from the driver. VC 23152 (b) prohibits persons with a BAC level of .08% or more from driving a vehicle while VC 23152 (a) prohibits individuals under the influence of alcoholic beverages to drive a vehicle. Under VC 23152 (a), the BAC level doesn’t count. It means drivers are completely forbidden from driving when drunk. If you are not charged under VC 23152 (b), you will also be charged under VC 23152 (a). As per VC 23152, different drivers are required to adhere to certain legal BAC levels. These levels include:

  • Adult non-commercial drivers - .08%
  • Drivers under 21 years for per se DUI - .05%
  • Underage drivers zero-tolerance DUI - .01%
  • Commercial vehicle drivers - .04%
  • Cab drivers - .04%

If you are involved in a crash, and the officer at the scene suspects you are intoxicated, they will request a sample. As part of the issuance of a driver’s license, you must agree to take these tests.

Reasons for Holding Drunk Drivers Accountable

California is a fault-based jurisdiction. Persons operating a car must exercise reasonable care to ensure the safety of others. If a driver failed to exercise reasonable care by driving while drunk, then you can hold them accountable for your injuries. But to do that, you must prove that the other driver was negligent, and in this case, driving when drunk is negligence. A drunk driver is often distracted, speeding, and with no regard for traffic signs and rules, which increases the risk of a crash. Winning a personal injury claim isn’t going to be a walk in the park. You need to present your evidence to prove that the driver was drunk, and the impairment is what caused the accident. You get to protect your rights and financial interests by doing so. Before filing a personal injury lawsuit, there are certain things that you must do.

Steps to Take after Being Hit by a Drunk Driver to Preserve Your Legal Claim

The main thing required in a personal injury lawsuit is proving negligence as per the state statutes. Your actions after the car crash determine the outcome of a trial. Here are some of the steps you should take after a car accident involving a drunk driver:

Contact the Police

After a vehicle collision where you suspect the driver involved is intoxicated, reaching out to law enforcers should be your first move. Doing so guarantees that the accident will be documented. With the crash recorded, even if the drunk driver flees the scene of the crash, the police will be able to find him or her. Reporting the accident also helps when filing a claim with the insurance or when pursuing a lawsuit.

Cooperate with the Police

If you have been injured and your vehicle damaged by a drunk driver, it might be challenging to control your emotions. Make sure you control your temper and allow the police who responded to the accident to do their work. Give facts about what happened, leading to the crash, and avoid speculations. The police have professional training on how to handle accident scenes. You should allow them to do their work, which includes conducting chemical tests to determine the levels of intoxication of all the drivers involved in the crash.

Obtain all the Relevant Information on the Crash

Don’t attempt leaving the scene of the crash without gathering all the information you might need in your claim. There are various types of evidence you will require to win the personal injury lawsuit. Some of the proofs include but are not limited to:

  • Copies of the police reports
  • Arrest reports
  • Witness statements
  • Pictures of the accident

Seek Medical Attention

After a crash, seeking medical attention is compulsory, even if you feel fine. Creating a paper trail is critical because some insurers will deny you a claim if you don’t have a medical report. Aside from helping you when laying a claim, seeking medical treatment immediately after a crash is going to assist in the diagnosis of delayed symptoms. That way, you prevent injuries and pain from becoming worse.

After seeking medical attention, contacting an attorney will be vital. He or she will help you with the insurance claim and even filing a lawsuit.

Information You should get from the Other Driver

Your personal injury attorney is going to highly depend on the information you collect at the scene to build robust evidence. Information about the other driver involved in the crash is the most essential. You can ask for the information by yourself but, in case you have suffered injuries, the police officer at the scene can help you with that. The information you gather should include the following:

  • Driver’s full name
  • Driver’s license number
  • License plate number
  • Name and phone number of his or her insurer
  • Insurance policy number
  • VIN

All drivers have a legal obligation to share this information. If a driver is intoxicated or uninsured, he or she might try to withhold the information. When a drunk driver attempts to flee the scene, note the model, color, or make of the car to make it easy for the police to track it down.

Some drivers might not flee the scene but will refuse to cooperate. In a situation like that, take a picture of the license plate number. It is enough to help with the investigation.

Elements your Attorney must prove in a Personal Injury Claim

The primary notion of car accidents caused by drunk drivers is the issue of negligence. There must be a clear link between the accident and the actions of a drunk driver. With that said, your attorney must prove the following:

  1. Breach of Duty

It is the duty of every driver using California roads to observe traffic rules. He/she must also operate the vehicle in a manner that doesn’t risk the safety of other road users. Your attorney can take the position that the driver was intoxicated by alcohol, which is a breach of duty under California law. This will make the defendant liable for the injuries or losses from the crash.

  1. Cause in Fact

In regards to this element, the attorney must show that the defendant’s decision to imbibe in alcoholic drinks beyond the legal limits directly caused the accident. If the defendant knew the risks involved in drunk driving before he or she started drinking, then he or she is liable for the accident.

  1. Proximate Cause

Your attorney must also show that drinking alcohol led to intoxication. The intoxication should have set into motion a series of events that resulted in injuries or damages that a reasonable person could have foreseen.

  1. Damages

Your legal representative must show that after the accident caused by a drunk driver, you suffered actual bodily harm or property damage.

Types of Compensable Damages in Car Accident

If you successfully prove that the drunk driver was responsible for the accident, the defendant must compensate you for the losses. You can get the damages in the form of economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Plaintiffs in drunk driving cases should recover the financial losses they have incurred stemming from the accident. The economic damages include:

Medical Expenses

After a crash, the victims are likely to sustain injuries from cuts to bruises. Others suffer many severe injuries like paralysis and permanent disability. Many expenses are incurred when treating these injuries. Additional costs will also be incurred for injuries that have delayed symptoms that manifest later, causing chronic pain. You will spend money paying medical bills for:

  • Therapy both cognitive and physical if you endured brain injuries
  • Medical consultation
  • Ambulance costs
  • Medical tools and devices
  • Disfigurement
  • Permanent disability

Lost Wages

Most of the people involved in car crashes suffer serious injuries that affect their healthy way of life. You might not be able to go to work for some time, which is where lost wages compensation comes in. If you can prove that the injuries sustained made you unable to earn a living, then you are entitled to lost wages.

Loss of Companionship

Some injuries, especially those of the spinal cord, can hinder you from being sexually active or unable to show affection. Partners of the injured individuals are the ones that recover these damages.

Other economic damages that one can recover after a car crash involving a drunk driver are:

  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Long term and short term personal care
  • Out of pocket expenses
  • Replacement or repairing a car

Economic damages are calculated objectively, which is why you should document all the costs. Loss of earning capacity cannot, however, be objectively calculated because it mostly involves forecasting done by economic experts.

Non-Economic Damages

These are mostly subjective because they are based on metrics. They don’t have a monetary value, and they include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Loss of a body part or irrecoverable injury to a limb
  • Disfigurement
  • Overall inconvenience

It is challenging to put a monetary value on these damages. When deciding the amount to be paid for these injuries, judges often refer to the previous court decisions on similar cases. This decision is because there is no set procedure for calculating the amount to be compensated. The advantage of non-economic damages is that there is no limit or cap on the amount of compensation one should receive. Economic experts might also be invited to estimate the amount of payment you will get for these damages.

Punitive Damages

If you believe that the drunk driver caused the accident willfully or with no regard for the safety of other road users, then you can pursue punitive damages in court. These damages can also be recovered through civil lawsuits. The core objective of the damages is to punish the guilty party and deter or discourage them from engaging in such acts in the future. The damages will be awarded if you can prove the defendant acted in malice. Malice is defined as shameful conduct by the defendant against the plaintiff willfully in disregard of the plaintiff’s rights and safety. The definition is under Civil procedure 3294 (c) (a) of California.

Keep in mind that in proving malice, the defendant can be guilty even if they didn’t harm you intentionally. The most critical concept that is important to show is that the defendant conducted him or herself in a manner that disregards your safety or rights. In this case of a drunk driver, you can be awarded punitive damages if your attorney can demonstrate that:

  • The defendant had full knowledge of the dangers of excessively drinking while driving
  • The defendant intentionally failed to obey the standard of conduct that could prevent injuries or damages

Proving the defendant is guilty in a punitive damage proceeding is not going to be a walk in the park. You will need an attorney and enough evidence.

You can only recover them from the defendant. Insurers are prohibited by law to pay punitive damages. If the defendant has no assets, then you might not get compensated. The best action to take is to have an attorney so that he or she can analyze the assets of the defendant. If there are no assets to be recovered, then a legal expert can advise you not to file a lawsuit.

California Comparative Negligence 

It is not in every case that the drunk driver takes full responsibility for the accident. There is a misconception that whenever an accident involves a drunk driver, they are the ones at fault. Sometimes even the plaintiff might partially be blamed for the accident. Civil courts find it difficult when dealing with cases involving comparative fault. It is the reason you should gather adequate evidence at the scene of the accident. Doing so is vital because every detail will be essential in showing the amount of negligence you contributed to the crash. If you are to blame in any way for the collision, the amount of compensation you were to receive from the drunk driver will be reduced, based on your degree of fault.

Differences between Criminal Lawsuit and Civil Lawsuit

Injuries sustained from car accidents caused by drunk drivers are subject to a civil lawsuit. The drunk drivers, on the other hand, can be subject to criminal charges that can lead to jail time, huge fines, and restitution fees if convicted. Civil lawsuits are the best for recovering damages, while criminal trials are for punishing lawbreakers.

Criminal Lawsuit

It is a misdemeanor in California for a driver to get behind the wheel while intoxicated with alcohol. Criminal lawsuits are therefore meant to protect the public from harm by discouraging and punishing drunk drivers. Whether there are injuries or not, drunk drivers are subject to criminal prosecution.

Civil Lawsuit

A civil case is entirely separate from a criminal proceeding. In accidents involving drunk drivers, civil cases are filed in the form of an injury lawsuit by the victim of the crash. But in cases where a victim is dead, the descendants of the victim can recover these damages. These cases present you with the opportunity of recovering economic and non-economic damages.   

Other Parties Responsible for Drunk Driving Crashes

Car accidents involving drunk drivers are distinctive because even a person who was not at the scene of the accident might be held liable. Aside from the drunk driver, other people that can be held responsible are:

  1. An Employer

If the drunk driver was driving within the scope of employment when the crash occurred, the employer would be held accountable for the injuries sustained by the plaintiff.

  1. An Entity that Entrusts a Vehicle to a Drunk Driver

If an entity assigns a drunk driver a car knowing that he or she is intoxicated and impaired, then the entity should take the blame for the injuries or fatalities that occur if the drunk driver causes an accident. The employer or an individual will also be directly responsible for the damages and losses, even if at the time they gave the driver the car he or she was not drunk. As long as they knew that the person they are assigning the vehicle was likely to operate it when under the influence, they are responsible.

  1. Rental Car Companies

If an intoxicated driver causes a car accident with a hired car, the car rental firm will be liable. However, their liability is pegged on their knowledge that the person hiring was unfit to operate a motor vehicle.

  1. Anybody who Offers Significant Encouragement to a Drunk Driver

If you engaged in a conspiracy theory with the drunk driver by encouraging him or her to operate a car, then you are also responsible for the injuries.

  1. Liquor Stores and Bars

Places that sell alcoholic beverages are almost safe from drunk driving accidents.

Other people, the plaintiff can file a claim against include:

  • Manufacturers of vehicle parts or vehicles for designing components with defects
  • The owner or person in charge of a road where the accident occurred for dangerous road conditions
  • Any other driver that was responsible for the accident

Zero Liability for Liquor Stores and Bars

Alcohol sellers in California cannot be found civilly liable for a car accident caused by their drunk customers.  But if they sold alcoholic beverages to a driver who was injured in a car accident, then they can be held liable under the first party dram shop law. However, a victim of an accident caused by a drunk driver cannot hold the store that sells or furnishes alcohol liable. The immunity provided to restaurants, bars, and liquor shops extends even to cases involving gross misconduct. A bartender can sell ten or more alcoholic drinks to a customer, knowing that the customer is highly impaired and is going to drive home immediately. The bartender will not be held liable for the injuries that occur if the customer causes an accident.

However, a bar owner or liquor furnisher who entrusted an intoxicated adult with a car and later caused an accident, the bar owner will be liable for the damages and injuries. The other case where alcoholic drink sellers can be held accountable is if they sell alcohol to minors who get intoxicated and end up causing accidents. However, they are liable only if the intoxication can be linked to the crash.

If a liquor shop sold alcohol to an intoxicated minor who, in turn, offers for free or sells liquor to another minor who causes an accident, the liquor store isn’t liable for the accident.

Social Hosts

If you are hosting a party where you are serving alcoholic beverages to your guests, you are immune to liability if one of the guests gets drunk and causes an accident.

Find a Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

Drunk driving is something that has proven challenging to fight in California. However, if you sustain injuries from a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you can hold him or her accountable to recover, economic, non-monetary, and punitive damages through a civil suit. We invite you to contact The LA Personal Injury Law Firm today at 310-935-0089 for any questions regarding a drunk driver car accident and personal injury claims.