Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is one of the most common causes of California vehicle accidents. DUI is a law violation that attracts criminal charges and severe penalties upon conviction. However, the fact that a drunk driver is facing charges does not prevent you from seeking compensation for the injuries you suffer from the accident. Drunk driving is an act of negligence. Therefore, by filing a personal injury claim against the drunk driver, you can receive the compensation you rightfully deserve.
Navigating a lawsuit against a driver facing DUI charges can be challenging. Therefore, seeking legal guidance is one of the wisest decisions for your case. Your car accident attorney will help you investigate the details of the accident, prove liability and recover the damages.
Suing a Drunk Driver after an Accident in California
Drunk driving is one of the most common causes of auto accidents in California. In addition to being a criminal offense, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is considered an act of negligence. Therefore, if you are injured in an accident resulting from drunk driving, you can file a civil lawsuit against the DUI driver to recover compensation for your injuries and losses.
When you file a personal injury lawsuit against a driver facing DUI charges, you must prove that the defendant was negligent and their negligent conduct resulted in the accident and your injuries.
Proving Negligence in Drunk Driving Accident Lawsuit
Negligence is careless conduct that is likely to harm or injure another person. In California accident lawsuits, negligence is the basis for proving liability. If you seek compensation from a driver facing DUI charges, the burden of proof shifts to you. The burden of proof is how you must prove your allegations. If the defendant denies the allegations that their actions were negligent, the burden of proof is on them.
The following are the elements of negligence that you must prove in your lawsuit against a driver facing DUI charges:
Duty of Care
The duty of care is the legal obligation each driver has to use reasonable care to avoid causing injuries to other road users. A duty of care is created by federal or state law. While there is no specific definition of the duty of care, the supreme court of California has embraced the idea that each driver must prevent foreseeable harm to others.
Drivers have an obligation to avoid acts such as drunk driving that could cause serious accidents and injuries to others. A judge or jury determines whether or not a defendant owed you a duty of care in your lawsuit. Some of the key factors in determining whether a defendant owed you a duty of care include:
- The foreseeability of injury.
- The degree of certainty that you suffered significant injuries from the drunk driving accident.
- The relationship between the defendant's drunk driving conduct and our injuries.
- The moral blame is attached to the defendant's conduct.
- Policies are put in place to prevent harm under the circumstances.
- The cost and availability of insurance for the risk involved.
Breach of Duty
A defendant in a drunk driving accident lawsuit could be deemed negligent "Per Se" for breaching the duty of care they have towards you. A breach of duty acts in a manner that puts another person at risk of injury or death. In a lawsuit against a driver charged with drunk driving, you can prove the defendant's negligence by showing that they violated the following laws:
- Driving under the influence. California Vehicle Code 23152(a) makes it a crime to operate a car under drug or alcohol influence. A driver is considered to be under the influence of their conduct is impaired by using these substances.
- Per Se DUI for individuals operating on a standard driver's license. Any individual over twenty-one years who operates a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher could face an arrest and DUI criminal charges under California VC 23152(b).
- Commercial DUI. It is illegal for commercial drivers to operate with a BAC of 0.04% or higher in California. Operating with a BAC which exceeds this limit could result in Commercial DUI criminal charges.
- Underage DUI. Individuals under the age of twenty-one cannot legally operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.05% or more. Even when the driver is not physically impaired, a BAC of 0.05% is considered too much for an underage driver.
- Zero-tolerance law. Under California VC 23136. An undergo driver who drives with a significant blood alcohol content could be found guilty under the Zero-tolerance laws. While a violation of this statute is not an actual DUI, a violation of the law and an accident resulting from such an incident will attract a civil suit against the driver.
- Driving while addicted to a drug. Under VC 23152(c), it is illegal for a drug addict to operate a vehicle. Addiction could be to an illegal substance like cocaine or prescription drugs such as morphine for this statute.
- DUI by ride-sharing. In California, driving with a BAC of0.04% or higher with a passenger for hire in your cab or limo is a criminal offense that could attract DUI charges under California VC 23152(e).
- Federal Motor carrier regulations. Commercial drivers who operate across state lines must follow the federal laws on drunk driving. Therefore, a commercial driver who operates with a BAC exceeding 0.04 will be guilty of drunk driving under federal laws.
Facing DUI criminal charges is not an automatic indicator that the driver caused your accident and injuries. When you file a lawsuit against the drunk driver, you are responsible for establishing a link between the drunk driving conduct and your injuries. While drunk driving does not need to be the only cause of the accident, it should have been a significant contributing factor.
A driver facing DUI criminal charges does not need to be convicted of DUI for you to recover compensation for your injuries. DUI criminal laws aim to punish individuals who violate the laws set to prevent drunk driving conduct on California roads. Guilt in a DUI criminal case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
On the other hand, civil liability helps ensure that victims of drunk driving accidents recover the compensation they deserve for the injuries resulting from the accident. Therefore, the burden of proof needed to link the defendant's conduct with your injuries is lower than that of the criminal court.
While the DUI criminal case and the civil liability are different, a DUI conviction provides sufficient proof to establish the defendant's negligence. Therefore, even when the fault party avoids a DUI conviction by accepting a plea deal, the issue of negligence will be clear.
Steps to Take if you are Involved in an Accident Caused by a Drunk Driver
Drunk driving results in some of the most catastrophic accidents in California, and the injuries resulting from these accidents are often severe. Drunk driving is an act of negligence, and a driver facing charges for DUI could be held liable for the accident and injuries. However, it is important to understand that the steps you take following the drunk driving accident will be significant to your ability to recover compensation for the injuries. The following are some steps you should take to increase your chances of maximum recovery:
Seek Immediate Medical Attention
DUI accidents are often very serious, and your health and wellbeing should be your priority. If you are injured, you need to seek immediate medical attention. When you seek medical attention, it is important to ensure that all your injuries are treated and documented. Your medical diagnosis and treatment records following a DUI accident are crucial evidence for your lawsuit.
Record Information about Other Vehicles and Drivers
If you are not severely injured after the accident, it would be wise to begin collecting the contact information of other drivers involved in the accident. Additionally, you can record the vehicle's license plate and, if possible, the Vehicle Identification Number. All this information is important to your claim and can help you identify involved parties in the event where the liable parties try to flee the scene.
Call the Police
If you are involved in an accident caused by a drunk driver, you need to call the police. While the involved parties could have different versions of the events, the police officers will assess the accident and write a report. The police report acts as an unbiased piece of evidence for your claim. When you speak to the police, ensure that you are truthful and avoid speculations.
Do Not Admit to Fault for the Accident
The issues surrounding liability for a DUI accident are complicated. If you intend to seek compensation by filing a lawsuit, you need to leave the task of assigning liability to the court. Even when you suspect that you are partially to blame for the accident, you should admit to fault. Admitting to fault by apologizing or stating that you are at fault for the accident could jeopardize your ability to recover compensation in your injury lawsuit.
Avoid Saying that you are not Injured.
The adrenaline and shock following a car accident may make it difficult to detect that you have an injury. You should never admit that you are not injured at the accident scene or during your conversations with the insurance company. If anyone requests information about your injuries, you need to ask them to wait for your medical report politely.
Document your Injuries
Injuries resulting from a drunk driving car accident range from minor to severe and life-threatening. Since compensation for medical expenses is a significant part of your compensation, you must ensure that all your injury claims are backed up by evidence. In addition to the medical report, you can take photos of your injuries and use these photos as evidence for your case. Some of the most common injuries resulting from drunk driving car accidents include:
- Cuts and lacerations
- Severe burns
- Broken bones
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Scarring and disfigurement
Seek Competent Legal Guidance
Recovering compensation from a drunk driving car accident lawsuit is complicated. To recover your rightful compensation, you have the burden to prove that the drunk driving conduct of the defendant was a significant factor in the accident and your injuries. In addition to the strain of gathering evince to support your claim, you must deal with insurance adjusters whose main role is to downgrade your claim and settle for as low of compensation as possible.
Therefore, hiring and retaining a competent personal injury attorney is crucial. As you concentrate on recovery, your attorney will help you build a strong claim and gather all the necessary evidence to support your lawsuit.
Compensation Benefits in a Drunk Driving Accident Lawsuit
If you are injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver in California, a successful lawsuit will result in the following compensatory benefits:
- Medical expenses. DUI accidents are often very serious. Most victims who survive these accidents sustain serious injuries. The cost of medical bills is one of the most significant losses you could incur following a DUI accident. While the insurance company may not be quick to cover your medical bills, the settlement you receive after a successful claim will include compensation for all the money you spent seeking treatment for the accident injuries.
- Lost wages. Often injuries resulting from auto accidents take a while to recover. This means that you will need to spend some days or even weeks nursing the injuries. Lost wages are the amount of money you lose from not going to work when you are injured in an accident. You can be compensated if you can prove the amount you lost in monthly salary, overtime, bonuses, tips, and income from self-employment.
- Lost earning capacity. When injuries take too long to recover or are incapable of complete recovery, returning to work will be difficult. If you have not recovered from the injuries by the time you receive a lawsuit settlement, you will receive compensation for lost earning capacity.
Wrongful Death and Drunk Driving
Accidents resulting from drunk driving are often very severe, and it is common for people to lose their lives in such an accident. If your loved one is killed in a drunk driving accident, you have a right to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the DUI driver. Even when the defendant is convicted for DUI causing death in criminal court, you can recover compensation for the wrongful death of your loved one.
Families in California often use wrongful death lawsuits to recover the funeral costs and ensure some financial stability for those surviving the deceased. Like a standard personal injury case, a wrongful death lawsuit could compensate for both economic and non-economic damages.
Does an Auto Insurance Company Pay Compensation for Drunk Driving Accident Lawsuits?
Most auto insurance policies will pay compensation for victims who suffer injuries from a drunk driving accident. In this case, damages such as medical bills can be covered under the DUI driver's third-party auto insurance policy. If the drunk driver liable for your accident does not have auto insurance coverage or their policy does not cover drunk driving accidents, you may need to file a lawsuit against them directly.
If the fault party's insurance company covers compensation for drunk driving accidents caused by their policyholders, the insurance company will contact you after the accident. The insurance company sends a representative to handle your case and endure that you accept a quick and low settlement. Therefore, you need to be cautious when dealing with insurance adjusters. While an insurance company is liable to compensate you for your losses, they aim at spending as little as possible in the settlement.
Therefore, they will attempt to push you into admitting fault for the accident or downplaying the severity of your injuries. If you do not agree with the compensation that an insurance company offers, it would be wise to file a formal claim in court. In this case, the judge determines the amount of compensation you deserve.
Find a Skilled Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Drunk driving is not only a criminal offense under California law but also a negligent act that can result in catastrophic accidents and serious injuries for the victims. The criminal and civil laws are separate, and each is meant to serve a specific purpose. Even when a drunk driver faces criminal charges for DUI, you can file a lawsuit against them to claim compensation for the damages you suffered from the accident.
While civil and criminal law is independent of each other, a conviction for DUI could help you establish the driver's negligence which is a key part of a personal injury lawsuit. Navigating a civil claim after a DUI accident can be challenging, especially since such accidents result in life-changing injuries. Fortunately, enlisting the services of a personal injury attorney will make the process of collecting evidence ad building the lawsuit easier.