Drunk driving is a severe problem in California and other parts of the world. While the drunk driver faces severe punishment after a criminal trial, people that incur injuries due to negligence by intoxicated drivers are left counting losses. Fortunately, California personal injury laws allow you to file a lawsuit if you are in an accident caused by a driver facing DUI charges. Compensation obtained from a successful case will help you cater to your medical needs, lost income, pain, and suffering. But, you have to file a winning lawsuit to receive compensation. A winning lawsuit has complete information regarding the case, evidence, and damages for which you seek compensation. You can talk to a competent personal injury attorney for more information and guidance.

When To Sue a Drunk Driver

Vehicle accidents are devastating. They leave victims counting significant losses for their physical and emotional injuries and property damage. It is worse if the cause of the accident is drunk driving. Drivers have the mandate to operate carefully and safely to avoid accidents on our roads. But an intoxicated driver has their driving ability impaired and will not be careful enough to prevent an accident.

California personal injury laws allow victims to sue for damages when they sustain injuries in an accident caused by an intoxicated driver. A driver is intoxicated when operating a vehicle under alcohol or drugs. It goes against the state DUI laws, as the driver’s ability to drive safely is completely impaired.

However, the plaintiff (injured party) must demonstrate that the driver was negligent in causing an accident in which they incurred the said damages.

California has several DUI laws. The responsible driver must face charges against one or more of them. Standard California DUI laws are:

California VC 23152 (a)

VC 23152(a) is the state law against driving a vehicle under drugs or alcohol. The law considers you to be operating under the influence of a drug or alcohol that has impaired your physical and mental ability to operate a vehicle as a sober driver would safely.

California VC 23152(b)

VC 23152(b) is the per se DUI law for adult motorists operating under alcohol or drugs. An adult driver in California is 21 years or older.

This law requires the determination of a driver’s Blood Alcohol Concentration. The standard BAC allowed for motorists in the state is below 0.08%. If a driver’s BAC is at .08% or more, they are determined guilty of DUI.

The determination of a motorist’s BAC is through the administration of blood or breath tests. The tests are taken shortly after a DUI arrest. A breath test can show positive intoxication results if the driver is under the effects of alcohol. But if the police suspect the driver to be operating under the effects of drugs, they will require the driver to undergo blood testing.

California VC 23152(d)

VC 23152(d) is against commercial vehicle drivers operating with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.04% or more. A specific DUI requirement for commercial drivers is necessary because of the extra caution required when one is operating a commercial vehicle. Even a slight impairment by alcohol or drugs is enough to impact a commercial driver’s ability to operate a large vehicle.

California VC 23152(e)

VC 23152(e) is the law against drivers operating taxis, limos, and similar vehicles for hire operating with a blood-alcohol concentration of .04% or more. Drivers paid for their driving services need to be cautious when operating in California. Even a slight amount of drugs or alcohol is enough to impair their driving ability and could result in a severe accident.

California VC 23136

VC 23136 is the law against underage drivers operating while intoxicated. Underage drivers with a blood-alcohol level of .05% or more are too intoxicated to operate a vehicle even though they are not physically intoxicated.

The zero-tolerance law under VC 23136 makes it a crime for anyone below 21 years (underage driver) to operate with a blood-alcohol level of .01% or more. A violation of this law occurs when an underage driver tests positive for alcohol or drugs.

You Must Prove Negligence

The fact that a driver faces DUI-related charges in California does not guarantee that your civil lawsuit against them will be successful if you incurred damages in an accident they caused. You must demonstrate that the driver was negligent and that his/her negligence caused your injuries.

Personal injury laws in California are mainly based on negligence. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed them a duty of care, which he/she breached in causing an accident in which the plaintiff was injured. In your case, you must demonstrate that the driver owed you a duty of care, which he/she breached to cause the accident in which you sustained injuries.

California drivers owe a duty of care to all road users, including pedestrians, motorists, motorcyclists, and bicyclists. Drivers must use reasonable care to protect others from harm. Failing to do so is being negligent.

Drivers are also considered negligent if they violate laws or statutes to protect other road users. The violation is sufficient proof of negligence and is referred to as negligence per se. You must show the following to demonstrate that the driver was negligent per se:

  • That the driver violated a law, statute, or ordinance
  • You sustained injuries as a result of that violation

Once you introduce this evidence, the burden of proof will now shit to the defendant to prove that:

  • They did not violate the said statute or ordinance
  • Or they violated the law, but the violation did not result in your injuries

Example: Daisy is driving on an unfamiliar road to see an old friend who recently contacted her. She accidentally hits a car in front as she avoids a large pothole on the road. Daisy had not seen the pothole until she was too close, so she quickly averted her car to avoid driving through the pothole.

The police respond to the scene. Since Daisy is nervous, the officer suspects her of drunk driving. She fails the preliminary tests and faces arrest for DUI. A breath test is conducted and comes out positive for DUI. It turns out that Daisy had used an alcohol-based mouthwash right before embarking on her journey.

The vehicle owner she hit files a suit against her for damages based on negligence per se. But the jury later finds out that Daisy was not operating under the influence. She is not liable for the damages to the other vehicle.

Your Injuries Must be a Direct Result of Alcohol or Drug Use

California personal injury laws require you (the plaintiff) to demonstrate that the defendant’s actions directly resulted in your injuries. The specific DUI statute that the offender violated is not essential. What is vital is proof that the accident in which you sustained injuries occurred due to the defendant’s drunken or drugged behavior.

The jury will decide based on the evidence you present in court. You must convince the jury that the accident would not have occurred if not for the defendant’s negligence.

Note: The offender does not have to be guilty of DUI for you to use the guilty verdict as proof of wrongful conduct. You can still sue a driver suspected of DUI for damages without necessarily relying on a criminal court verdict against the said driver.

California civil and criminal courts perform different functions. Their burden of proof is different. Evidence used in a criminal court is not always admissible in a civil court. Criminal courts’ mandate is to punish wrongdoers. A driver arrested for DUI will face trial in a criminal court. If they are guilty, the judge will give a verdict to punish the driver for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. The driver must be determined guilty beyond reasonable doubts, and all the jurors must agree with the judge’s final verdict.

Civil lawsuits grant compensation to victims that suffer damages due to others’ wrongful acts. The court must agree on the liable party and the party’s role in causing the victim’s injuries. The preponderance of the evidence mainly determines liability. The plaintiff does not need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged defendant’s actions caused his/her injuries. But the court requires the plaintiff to demonstrate that the alleged liable party was more likely than not negligent in causing their injuries.

Thus, you do not need to wait for the criminal court’s verdict if you have enough proof that the driver was operating under the effects of drugs or alcohol, and that is what caused the accident in which you sustained injuries.

However, a DUI conviction can help support your claim in a civil court. It is proof that the driver was negligent per se. The driver violated a statute, which resulted in an accident in which you suffered injuries. You should win the lawsuit if you can demonstrate that the accident would not have occurred were the driver not operating under the influence.

Sometimes prosecutors in criminal courts offer plea bargains to defendants. Plea bargains allow defendants to face conviction for more lenient charges by admitting guilt. If the said driver pleaded to a more lenient charge like dry reckless, it does not take away the fact that they were operating under the influence. In that case, you should be able to file a lawsuit for damages based on negligence per se.

Remember that the driver has a right to present evidence in a civil court demonstrating that their intoxication did not result in your damages. You must gather compelling evidence if you wish to win the lawsuit. The type of evidence the defendant can present includes:

  • The accident was a result of another factor other than the defendant’s intoxication
  • Your injuries were not a direct result of the accident

Causes of vehicle accidents are many in California, including negligence by other road users and poor road conditions. If the defendant can prove that another factor was the cause of the accident in which you were injured, he/she will not be liable for your damages.

Also, your damages must be a direct result of the accident. If you had an injury from a previous accident or an underlying condition that only worsened after the accident, the driver would not be liable for your damages.

Damages To Include in Your Claim

When filing a legal suit against a negligent DUI driver, you must include all the damages you have incurred in the accident, both monetary and non-monetary. Examples of damages allowed in a case like this include:

  • Past, current, and future medical bills for all the medical needs that result from the accident
  • Psychological counseling and therapy you need to recover from the accident emotionally
  • Short and long-term care you will need until you fully recover from your physical injuries
  • Occupational and physical rehabilitation, if any is necessary for your recovery journey
  • Lost wages for the time you missed work
  • Lost earning ability
  • Suffering and pain
  • Emotional anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Lost limb, or loss of function in one or more body parts

You should recover all your damages if you can prove to the court that you suffered those damages and were a direct result of a DUI driver’s negligence.

The Court Could Award Punitive Damages

You could recover more damages if the judge awards punitive damages. They are not part of the compensatory damages but are allowed by law if someone sustained injuries through negligence by an intoxicated driver.

Civil court judges award punitive damages to punish defendants that have exhibited gross negligence in causing the victim’s injuries.

If the judge decides to award you punitive damages, you will be required to provide clear and compelling proof that the offender was guilty of fraud, malice, or oppression.

Malice will apply to this case. It does not mean that the drunk driver had an evil intention. It means that the driver’s conduct was willful and with conscious disregard for the safety and rights of other road users.

To demonstrate that the driver was malicious, you must show that:

  • The driver knew the likely consequence of his/her conduct
  • But he deliberately and willfully failed to evade those dangerous consequences

What To Do if You Are Partly Responsible for the Accident

A driver would not be 100% liable for the accident if you had a part in it, even though they were operating under the influence. California personal injury laws use comparative negligence to award victims the exact percentage of damages a liable party is responsible for. The judge will determine a defendant’s percentage of fault from the evidence presented in court. They will also decide whether you are partly responsible for the accident. In that case, you will receive a percentage of the compensation and not 100%.

California laws allow victims of vehicle accidents to file a lawsuit even when the alleged liable party was slightly at fault for the accident. But you will only receive the party’s percentage of fault.

Example: Sammy is in a rush to go home after work. He cannot wait to finish the interesting series he has been watching the entire week. While speeding, Sammy overtakes a couple of vehicles. While overtaking at a corner, Sammy crashes into an oncoming vehicle. It turns out that the other vehicle's driver was speeding too and was operating under the influence.

Sammy wants to take advantage of the fact that the other driver was operating under the influence to recover his full damages. But the jury realizes that Sammy was partly responsible for the accident. The other driver is only responsible for a percentage of fault.

What to Do After an Accident With a DUI Driver

If you are involved in an accident, it is advisable to call the police immediately. You or someone else in the accident could need immediate medical attention. The police will respond to the scene immediately and bring medical help to the injured.

Do not blame anyone for the accident, not even yourself. Do not try to apologize to the other driver or passengers, even if they are seemingly more hurt than you. The other party could take that as an admission of guilt to have you held responsible for the accident.

Take pictures of the accident scene. That is valuable evidence that could help strengthen your case when you decide to pursue compensation in a civil court. If you cannot take pictures, have someone else do that.

Find an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

If you are in an accident caused by a DUI driver in Los Angeles, CA, you are eligible for compensation under the California personal injury laws. Hire a competent attorney right after the accident to help you understand your rights. Your attorney will also take you through the legal process and help you develop a solid case against the responsible party. We offer quality legal services and support at Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney to help you obtain the compensation you deserve. Call us at 424-231-2013 and let us study the details of your case.