In California, it is against the law to drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (DUI). Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that nobody drives drunk. In 2017 alone, 1,294 people were killed by drunk drivers, and an additional 26,967 people were injured. In that same year, 829 people were killed and 2982 people were injured by drivers who were under the influence of drugs.
These numbers are shocking, but they represent a grim reality: drunk driving is incredibly dangerous. If you or a loved one are injured in a drunk driving accident, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver. Through a personal injury claim, you can recover compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain, and suffering, and more.
An experienced California drunk driving accident lawyer can help you obtain the maximum recovery for your losses — and to seek justice. With law offices throughout the Bay Area, the Kuvara Law Firm is dedicated to helping victims of all types of accidents in northern California. We offer free case evaluations to all prospective clients and will work hard to help our clients achieve the best possible results.
California’s DUI Laws
California’s Vehicle Code prohibits driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol or drugs. A person is considered to be “under the influence” if their physical or mental abilities are impaired to the extent that they can no longer drive as well as a cautious sober person. This includes driving when your ability to do so is impaired by prescription or even over-the-counter drugs.
A person may also be charged with a DUI if they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over a certain level. BAC is measured by a chemical test, such as a blood or breath test, that is taken at the time of a DUI arrest. A blood or urine test may also reveal the presence of drugs in a person’s system.
For drivers aged 21 or older, the legal limit is 0.08% BAC. Other drivers have a much lower limit. This includes drivers of commercial vehicles (0.04%), ride-sharing, taxi or limo drivers (0.04%), and anyone under the age of 21 (0.05% BAC). California also has a zero-tolerance law for drivers under the age of 21; if they are arrested with a BAC of 0.01% or higher, they will be charged with an infraction.
Anyone who is convicted of a DUI offense in California will face severe criminal penalties. Depending on whether the DUI is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, the consequences of a DUI conviction may include jail or prison time, probation, mandatory alcohol education classes, steep fines and fees, and a driver’s license suspension. Drunk drivers may also be held financially responsible for any injuries that they cause.
When Can You Sue a Drunk Driver in California?
A person can file a car accident lawsuit when they are injured by a drunk or drugged driver. To win this type of personal injury claim, the victim will have to prove that the defendant was negligent and that they suffered damages (losses) as a result of the other driver’s negligence.
In most motor vehicle accident cases, the injured party will have to prove that the at-fault driver was negligent. This involves showing that the other driver had a duty of care and that they breached that duty of care, which caused an accident and damages. However, in drunk driving crashes, a skilled California DUI accident attorney will argue that the other driver was “negligent per se.”
Negligence per se is a legal theory that can be used when a driver violates a law or statute that is meant to protect other drivers and pedestrians. The violation of this law is — in and of itself — proof of negligence.
Under California’s negligence per se law, a defendant (the at-fault driver) is presumed to be negligent if they violate a law statute or ordinance, and that violation causes an injury. If a plaintiff (victim) introduces evidence of negligence per se, then the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to prove that they did not violate the law, or that their violation did not cause the plaintiff’s injury.
Importantly, it is not enough under California’s negligence per se law to simply show that the other driver was driving drunk. You must also demonstrate that their drunk driving caused the accident. If the defendant was drunk but the collision was caused by something else, such as faulty brakes, then this rule may not apply.
A defendant does not have to be convicted of a DUI in order to be held financially responsible for any injuries that arose from a drunk driving accident. The standard for guilt in the criminal justice system is beyond a reasonable doubt. In a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff only has to prove that the defendant is liable by a preponderance of the evidence, or that it is more likely than not that the defendant drove drunk and injured the plaintiff.
If the defendant is convicted of a DUI charge, then that will be sufficient proof that they violated the law. In this situation, your personal injury lawyer can argue that the defendant was negligent per se.
What Damages Can You Recover in a Drunk Driving Lawsuit?
By filing a claim against a drunk driver and their insurance company, an injury victim may be able to recover economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Both economic and non-economic damages are meant to compensate a person for their losses. Punitive damages have a goal of punishing someone who acted wrongfully and to deter others from doing something similar.
Economic damages involve tangible financial losses. They may include medical bills, future medical expenses, property damage, lost wages, and reduced earning capacity. Economic damages can often be proved with things like bills, invoices, and pay stubs.
In contrast, non-economic damages are for intangible losses. They are meant to compensate a victim for things like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. In a wrongful death lawsuit, a victim’s loved ones may also recover for loss of consortium and other intangible losses that they have suffered.
Punitive damages are rarely available in personal injury lawsuits, which typically involve negligent conduct, as opposed to intentional conduct. However, California law permits the recovery of punitive damages when a person is injured by a drunk driver. To recover punitive damages, a plaintiff must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice.
In drunk driving cases, the defendant is often accused of acting with malice. Under California law, malice is defined as conduct that is either intended to cause injury or despicable conduct that is carried out by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard for the rights or safety of others. In drunk driving cases, this can be shown by introducing evidence that the other driver voluntarily consumed drugs and/or alcohol to the point of intoxication, knowing that they must operate a motor vehicle after doing so.
As with other car crash lawsuits, the process of recovering compensation in a drunk driving case begins with a free consultation with a personal injury law firm. There, the attorney will explain your rights and options for moving forward with a case. If you choose to retain the firm, then they will thoroughly investigate the case and develop a demand for compensation based on the facts and the law that applies to your situation.
In many cases, the insurance company will offer a settlement. However, insurers and their defense attorneys often attempt to minimize their liability for personal injury claims using a number of different tactics. In these situations, it is important to work with a personal injury attorney who is skilled at negotiating, and who has the trial experience necessary to take your case to court — and win.
If You’ve Been Hurt By a Drunk Driver, We’re Here to Help.
Any type of car accident can be devastating and may lead to serious injuries. Our law firm is here for victims of motor vehicle collisions. We will aggressively advocate for you, working hard to get you the maximum compensation for your losses.
The Kuvara Law Firm represents individuals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area who have been hurt by intoxicated motorists. We have a track record of success and significant trial experience. If you or a family member has been injured by a drunk driver, contact us online or call us at 415-479-7070 to schedule a free consultation with a member of a team.