In California, it is illegal to drive with a BAC of .08% or higher. Drunk driving is a crime and if a drunk driver hits another vehicle or person and causes injuries, they could be subjected to both civil and criminal penalties.
If you have been injured by a drunk driver, you can contact our experienced personal injury attorneys at Foos Gavin Law Firm to help you file a lawsuit against the drunk driver. We have successfully handled similar cases for our clients in Sacramento and we stand ready to help you seek fair compensation.
What Should I Do if I’m Hit by a Drunk Driver?
If you are hit by a drunk driver in California, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the drunk driver.
If you have been hit by a drunk driver, you should take the following steps:
- Call the police — It is important to call the police after you have been hit by a drunk driver because they will be able to investigate the accident and determine who was at fault. They will also be able to file a report which can be used as evidence in a court case.
- Get medical attention even if you do not have visible injuries — There are two main reasons why it is essential for you to get medical attention after you have been hit by a drunk driver. The first is to ensure that you do not have any internal injuries or bleeding. Secondly, this will help you gather evidence to support your case against the drunk driver. The sooner you get medical attention, the better your chances are of gathering evidence.
- Move to a safe place — Before anything, ensure that you are safe and free from further injury by moving to a safe area, probably a few miles away from where the accident occurred. At times an explosion causing serious injuries can occur right after the accident so ensure you are safe.
- Gather evidence, including photos of the scene and any damage to your vehicle — There are a few reasons why it is important to gather evidence after you have been hit by a drunk driver. First, it can help to prove that the other driver was indeed impaired at the time of the accident. This can be important in both criminal and civil cases. Second, evidence can help to establish the extent of your injuries and damages. This is important to ensure that you are fully compensated for your losses.
- Collect the other vehicle’s information — Once you are safe, record the plate number, model, and color. If possible, take photos of the vehicle as this information is crucial while reporting the accident. The information can also be used as evidence in court.
- Contact an experienced personal injury attorney — There are a few benefits of contacting an experienced personal injury attorney after you have been hit by a drunk driver. One of the most important reasons is that an attorney can help ensure that you receive the full compensation that you are entitled to. Another reason to contact an attorney is that they can help investigate the accident to determine the negligent parties who should be held liable for your damages For example, If it can be proven that an establishment served the driver despite knowing that they were intoxicated, they may be held liable. Lastly, an attorney can help you navigate the complex legal process and ensure that your rights are protected every step of the way. If you try to handle your case on your own, you could miss important deadlines or make costly mistakes.
- Do not speak to the drunk driver or their insurance company without an attorney present — Insurance companies often try to lowball injury victims, but an experienced attorney will fight to get you the maximum amount of compensation possible. You can also say something unknowingly that could be used against you in court.
DUI Laws in California
The legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit in the state of California is 0.08%. If a driver is caught operating a vehicle with a BAC of 0.08% or higher, they can be arrested and charged with DUI. However, there are enhanced penalties for drivers who are caught driving with a BAC of 0.15% or higher. These enhanced penalties can include longer jail sentences, higher fines, and longer driver's license suspensions.
Also, commercial drivers in California are held to a stricter BAC limit of 0.04%. If a commercial driver is caught driving with a BAC of 0.04% or higher, they can be arrested and charged with DUI.
What Must My Attorney Prove When Filing a Personal Injury Claim?
There are four elements that must be proven in a personal injury claim: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
- Duty of care — Duty of care is the legal obligation to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury or loss to another person. Your attorney must prove that the driver had a duty to operate the vehicle safely.
- Breach — Your attorney must prove that the driver breached the duty of care and in this case by driving while intoxicated. In order to prove the driver was drunk, your lawyer will need to show that their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was above the legal limit of 0.08 percent at the time of the accident, or that they were otherwise impaired by alcohol. There are several ways to do this, but the most common is to introduce the results of a chemical test that the driver took at the time of the accident. The officer may have had the driver take a breathalyzer test, or a blood or urine sample. If you cannot introduce the results of a chemical test, you can prove the driver was drunk through other evidence. This may include; the driver's statements to police, witness statements, the driver's behavior at the scene of the accident, and the driver's behavior prior to the accident. If the driver was arrested for drunk driving after the accident, you may be able to obtain a copy of the police report.
- Causation — Your attorney must show that the accident caused your injuries. To show that the driver’s intoxication was the direct cause of the accident, your attorney will likely rely on police reports, accident reconstruction experts, and eyewitness testimony. For example, if the police report indicates that the driver ran a red light, your attorney could use this to show that the driver’s intoxication led to the accident. To prove that the accident caused your injuries, your attorney will likely obtain your medical records and have you evaluated by a medical expert. The medical expert will likely review your medical records and conduct a physical examination to determine the nature and extent of your injuries. The medical expert will then provide an opinion as to whether your injuries were caused by the accident.
- Damages — Your attorney must show that you have incurred damages as a result of your injuries. To show that you have incurred damages as a result of your injuries, your attorney will likely obtain your medical records, the police report, the accident reconstruction report, witness statements, and the driver's statement to the police. If you are able to prove that the driver was drunk and that their intoxication caused your injuries, you may be able to recover your damages. However, your attorney may need to use documentation, such as pay stubs or tax returns, to calculate your past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages to ensure that you are compensated for every damage sustained.
How Do I Recover Damages from a Drunk Driver?
If you have been injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, you may be able to recover compensation from the driver and the driver's insurance company. You may also be able to recover compensation from the owner of the vehicle if the drunk driver was driving with the owner's permission.
You should contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your case. The attorney will investigate the accident and gather evidence to support your claim. The attorney will also negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. If the insurance company refuses to pay, the attorney may file a lawsuit on your behalf.
What are the Recoverable Damages in a Lawsuit Against a DUI Motorist?
There are two common types of damages that a plaintiff can get from a personal injury claim involving a drunk driver. They include:
- Compensatory damages — This type of damage is intended to make the plaintiff "whole again." They include economic damages like medical bills and lost wages, as well as noneconomic damages like pain and suffering and emotional distress.
- Punitive damages — These are damages that are meant to punish drunk drivers for their actions. They are typically only awarded in cases where the driver's actions were particularly egregious.
Economic damages are the financial losses a person suffers as a result of an injury or other harm. Economic damages are intended to compensate the victim for their losses and are not meant to punish the person who caused the harm.
The economic damages include:
- Lost wages
- Lost income
- Lost earnings capacity
- Repair costs
- Medical bills
- Care cost
Non-economic damages are damages that are not related to any financial losses incurred as a result of an accident or injury. These damages are often referred to as "pain and suffering" damages, as they are intended to compensate an accident victim for the physical pain and emotional suffering that they have endured as a result of their injuries. In many cases, non-economic damages will make up a large portion of the total compensation that an accident victim is awarded in a personal injury lawsuit.
This is because economic damages, such as medical bills and lost wages, can often be easily calculated, while non-economic damages are more difficult to quantify. When awarding non-economic damages, courts will often consider the severity of the victim's injuries, the impact that the injuries have had on the victim's life, and the amount of financial losses that the victim has incurred as a result of the accident.
Non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Punitive damages are mainly awarded to deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future. Punitive damages are not available in all cases but may be available if the defendant’s conduct is found to be wanton, reckless, or malicious. Punitive damages are awarded in addition to any other damages that may be awarded in a case, such as compensatory damages (which are intended to compensate the plaintiff for their losses) and/or punitive damages. Punitive damages are not available in all jurisdictions, and even where they are available, there may be limits on the number of punitive damages that can be awarded.
If I Got Hit By a Drunk Driver, is My Family Entitled to Compensation?
Yes. If you are injured by a drunk driver, your family members can sue the defendant for loss of consortium. However, a person can only file for loss of consortium if the accident deprived them of intimacy or companionship with their partners.
There are also other damages that the victim’s family members can be able to collect from a DUI accident. They include:
Even though most claims end with the death of the victim, civil procedure 377.30 has been exempted by California law. This code allows the plaintiff’s representative to seek compensation for economic damages endured between the period when the accident took place and when the victim died.
For instance, if a drunk driver hits another person’s car causing them injuries and the victim loses their life after a week, their representative may sue for car damage, missed hours of work, and medical bills for the period between the crash and their death.
California law allows survivor action to award punitive damages but it, however, does not allow the code to award pain and suffering.
Wrongful death compensates close family members (for example, a spouse) for the demise of their loved one. The damages that are compensated in wrongful death include loss of companionship, loss of future earnings, and funeral expenses. Also, note that wrongful death does not award punitive damages.
Factors that Can Affect Settlements in Drunk Driving Cases
There are many factors that can affect the settlement value of a drunk driving case. Some of these factors include the severity of the accident, the injuries sustained, the amount of property damage, the blood alcohol level of the driver, and whether the driver has a prior history of drunk driving. The insurance company of the drunk driver may also be a factor in the settlement value of the case.
What Happens if I was Partially at Fault?
If you were partly to blame for an accident with a DUI driver in California, you may still be able to recover damages from the driver. California follows a comparative negligence system, which means that each person is responsible for their actions, and damages will be apportioned accordingly. If you were found to be 50% or less at fault for the accident, you would be able to recover damages from the other driver. If you were found to be more than 50% at fault, you would not be able to recover damages.
How to Recognize a Drunk Driver
There are many ways to recognize a drunk driver. Some of the most common signs include swerving in and out of lanes, speeding, and making wide turns. Other signs may include driving with the windows down in cold weather, driving at night without headlights, and making sudden stops. If you see a driver exhibiting any of these behaviors, it is best to avoid them and call the police.
Civil VS. Criminal DUI Cases
Criminal law and civil law are two very different systems of justice. Criminal law is a system where the state brings charges against a person who has committed a crime. The state is the plaintiff, the person accused is the defendant, and the burden of proof is on the state. The state must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime. If the state does not meet this burden, the defendant is found not guilty and is not punished.
Civil law is a system where a person or entity can bring a lawsuit against another person or entity. The person or entity who brings the suit is called the plaintiff, and the person or entity being sued is the defendant. The burden of proof in civil cases is much lower than in criminal cases. In civil cases, the plaintiff must prove his or her case “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the plaintiff must prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the act or facts alleged.
The difference between the burden of proof in criminal cases and civil cases is that in criminal cases, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. In civil cases, the plaintiff must only prove that it is more likely than not that the defendant committed the act or facts alleged. This difference in the burden of proof is the main reason that people who have been convicted of DUI can be sued in civil court.
California's Statute of Limitations on Personal Injury Claims
A statute of limitations is a law that places a time limit on when a claim can be filed, and if you wait too long, your claim may be dismissed. The statute of limitations for car accident claims in California is two years from the date of the accident. The two-year time limit applies in most cases, but there might be exceptions. If you were in a car accident with a driver who was working for the government at the time of the accident, you have only one year to file a claim, and if the accident caused the death of a victim, the heirs have only one year to file a wrongful death claim. If you wait too long to file a claim, you may not be able to collect compensation for your injuries.
In addition, if you file a claim against a government entity, you must give notice of your intention to file the claim within six months of the accident.
What if the Statute of Limitations Has Expired?
If the statute of limitations has expired, there is still a chance you can collect compensation for your injuries. If your car accident was caused by someone driving a stolen car, you may have a legal argument that the statute of limitations should not apply. If the identity of the driver was unknown and you did not discover the driver’s identity until after the two-year time limit had expired, you may be able to make a legal argument that the statute of limitations should be extended.
Can You Sue a Drunk Driver with No Insurance in California?
If you are hit by a drunk driver with no insurance in California, you may be able to sue the driver. However, it may be difficult to collect any money from the driver, since they may not have any assets.
Must the Defendant be Convicted for me to Sue for Damages?
No, a defendant does not need to be convicted nor be found guilty for you to sue for damages. The main reason is that civil liability laws and criminal laws are different in California and they serve different needs.
Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
If you have been injured by a drunk driver, it is important to seek counsel from an experienced personal injury attorney that can help you with the personal injury paperwork and claims. At Foos Gavin Law Firm in Sacramento, we have a strong commitment to our clients and we are willing to help you seek fair compensation. Call us today at 916-779-3500.