Drunk driving kills more than 1,000 people annually in California. Others have to nurse injuries and recover losses from the accident. If you are injured, or a loved one dies in a drunk driving accident, you can sue the drunk driver for damages. Filing a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver is a separate proceeding from the criminal case. Therefore, if you can prove that the driver was drunk, leading to the accident and your injuries, then you can recover damages even if the person is acquitted at trial. At the Orange County Personal Injury Attorney, we focus on making you whole again by filing for damages from drunk drivers who cause accidents in Orange County.
Drunk Driver Lawsuits
A drunk driver is one whose physical and mental state is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Drunk driving is responsible for at least 29 deaths every day in the US.
The common ways in which alcohol affects a driver include:
- Reduced judgment due to a reduction in the ability to think clearly or exercise the necessary caution
- Reduced concentration on the weather, driving manners, speed and the behavior of other road users
- Reduced comprehension of road signs, signals and other situations that increase the risk of accidents
- Loss of coordination between the hands, eyes, and legs which reduces the reaction time in emergencies
- Impaired vision and hearing which affects judgment and reaction time
Victims who suffer harm due to the accident can file a civil lawsuit against the drunk driver. The court will require the plaintiff to prove that the defendant was negligent at the time of the accident. Negligence in drunk driving cases arises when:
- The driver fails to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm to other road users
- The driver violates California DUI laws (negligence per se)
Law enforcement officials are important in determining whether an accident occurs due to a DUI. They will test parties involved in the accident to determine whether drugs or alcohol are involved.
Civil cases have a lower burden of proof compared to criminal cases. Therefore, you can still sue a drunk driver who is acquitted of a DUI offense or convicted for a lesser offense, such as a dry reckless. Suppose a drunk driver is convicted for an offense, then you can use the conviction as proof of negligence per se.
The burden of proof in civil cases follows the principle of preponderance of evidence - a concept that requires a plaintiff to prove the likelihood that the driver acted negligently. The court uses several factors to determine the likelihood that the defendant drove while drunk. These include:
- Refusal to take chemical tests
- A criminal conviction
- The chemical test results
- The behaviors of the driver at the time of the accident
If the court finds that the driver acted negligently, then it will award damages based on the level of negligence. Where you contributed to the accident, the court will determine your percentage fault and subtract that from the final settlement.
Common Types of Drunk Driving Accidents
Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the functions of the body. Therefore, a drunk driver will experience poor concentration, memory, and coordination. In some cases, the driver might suffer drowsiness and sleep on the wheel.
When a driver is intoxicated, he or she cannot exercise the care a sober person would use in similar situations. Most drunk driving accidents are preventable. They include:
Head-on collisions occur when two cars that are traveling in opposite directions bump into each other. Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of head-on collision accidents. A drunk driver is likely to lose focus on the road and use the wrong lane. In some cases, he or she might fall asleep at the wheel and veer into the wrong lane.
Head-on collisions are a major cause of serious injuries and fatalities. The common injuries associated with such accidents include:
- Severe head injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal injuries
- Broken bones
- Severe nerve damage
- Organ damage
- Permanent disfigurement
You could recover damages from the drunk driver if he or she caused the collision by being in the wrong lane or making a careless turn.
Rear-end collisions occur when the car tailing you bumps into the rear of your car. In most cases, the fault in rear-ended accidents falls on the driver who rear-ends you. The law expects drivers to maintain a safe distance from the car ahead. The distance allows the car enough space to stop in case of an emergency.
Sometimes, rear-end accidents can happen due to the negligence of the driver ahead. The lead driver can be at-fault for a rear-end accident in the following ways:
- Suddenly slamming the brakes
- Reversing the car suddenly
- Failure to fix mechanical issues with the car such as a flat tire
Drunk drivers cause rear-ended accidents due to impaired judgment of distances and reaction time.
Drunk drivers are less likely to pay attention to the road and other road users. Therefore, they might miss important signs or fail to see pedestrians entering the road. Such mistakes result in injuries or death of the pedestrian.
What to Do After a Drunk Driving Accident
When an accident occurs, most people do not know what to do. They may engage in unnecessary activities, panic, or leave the scene of the accident. Here are the steps to take immediately after an accident:
- Assess the extent of your injuries and those of others. If you can, take a photograph of your injuries. Then seek medical attention even if you believe you suffered minor injuries.
- Call the police immediately to notify them of the accident. Ideally, you should call the police as soon as the accident occurs. The officers will secure the scene and collect evidence as required.
- Contact your insurance company immediately. Insurance companies require that you inform them immediately after an accident, even if you are not at fault. The insurance companies might settle some of your medical bills and property damage depending on your policy. In some cases, the insurance company will sue the at-fault party to recover your damages.
- Contact a personal injury attorney immediately. Your attorney will gather the relevant evidence and guide you through the process. He or she can also contact witnesses before the even fades in their minds. In other cases, the attorney may use an accident reconstruction expert to piece together what might have happened at the scene of the accident. Delays in contacting an attorney increases the chance of losing crucial evidence or witnesses moving. With less evidence to prove your case, then the settlement is likely lower.
Gathering Proof in Drunk Driving Lawsuits
For a drunk driver to pay damages to injured parties, the plaintiff must prove several elements:
- The driver was drunk at the time of the accident
- The driver’s drunkenness caused him or her to act negligently
- The negligence led to or was the proximate cause of the victim’s injuries
Gathering proof for a drunk driving accident begins at the scene of the accident. You need to document the events leading up to the accident. The first step after the accident is to call for emergency help.
Call 911 to report the accident and request help to any injured parties. During the call, you could indicate that you think the other driver is drunk. Some of the factors that could lead you to believe the driver is intoxicated include:
- He or she has an alcoholic breath
- He or she has cans of alcoholic beverages in the car
While at the scene of the accident, watch the behavior of the driver. Check whether he or she switches positions with passengers to hide the fact that he or she was driving.
Once the police arrive, provide them with relevant information about the accident. Do not take or assign blame at this stage. Inform the police if you saw the other party engaging in a suspicious activity such as throwing away beer cans or drug paraphernalia.
Ask a police officer for a copy of the police report. The report contains information vital to your case. The police officer who responds to an accident call engages him or herself in investigating the scene of the accident. He or she will inspect vehicles, measure distances, take photographs, interview people, and document the findings.
He or she will then use the information to draft a report. Some contents of the police report include:
- The date, time and location of the accident
- Contact and identifying information of parties and witnesses in the accident
- The damage on vehicles
- The weather, lighting, and road condition at the scene of the accident
- A diagram of the accident
- Witness information
- Traffic violations
- The officer’s opinion of the accident
You can obtain a copy of the police report from the local law enforcement agency or ask your insurance company for a copy.
If the driver was arrested for a DUI offense, follow up to determine whether he or she was convicted. Arrest records and convictions can be used as evidence for negligence per se.
Record witness statements and contact information while at the scene of the accident. The witnesses can provide important insights about what happened. In some cases, you can find witnesses who saw the driver drinking.
Gather photographs and videos of the damage to the vehicles and statements from people on the scene.
Damages from Drunk Driving Car Accidents
The damages you get from a drunk driving car accident depend on the nature of the injuries. You can only recover damages if your property was damaged or you suffered an injury. The sources of compensation from a drunk driving car accident include:
- The insurance company of the drunk driver
- The estate of the at-fault driver (if the driver died from the accident)
- The outlet that served the driver alcohol
The damages you can recover include:
Lost wages are available for people who miss work due to injuries related to a drunk driving accident. The courts calculate your lost wages based on your previous earnings. You should, therefore, present pay stubs, tax returns, and payslips.
If you receive bonuses and overtime at your workplace, then you can recover these damages under lost wages.
Lost wages are a type of compensatory economic damage, which is awarded on the exact dollar value. Therefore, if you lose $1000 in wages, then your recovery will be $1,000.
Medical bills start piling up when you visit a doctor for an evaluation after the accident. The cost of the medication will vary with the extent of your injuries and the type of treatment required.
Insurance companies and courts calculate the value of medical bills by adding up the costs of your treatment. It is, therefore, essential to keep records of your treatment and prescriptions. Keep the receipts for these costs indicating what each receipt covered. Include receipts for alternative treatments such as acupuncture.
You can use your insurance to pay for medical bills before you get your settlement. In other cases, you can find a doctor who can offer services on a lien.
The court might also award damages for future medical costs depending on the injury you suffered. For example, people with spinal injuries often require long-term care, therapy, and rehabilitation. The court will calculate the value of the medical bills through the help of an economic expert and the doctor.
The doctor will weigh in on the potential recovery period, the medication and treatment plan you will need in the future.
In most cases, personal injury lawyers advise the injured person to wait until the injuries reach maximum recovery. At the maximum recovery stage, the injured person's condition cannot improve further.
The maximum recovery stage gives doctors a better idea of the future treatment plan. Therefore, the process of estimating future medical bills is easier.
Damages to Your Car
Most drunk driving accidents cause significant damage to the vehicles involved. You can file a claim for vehicle damages separately or together with the injury lawsuit. Some of the recoveries you can make for property damage in a car accident include:
- Damages to the vehicle
- Damages to the items inside the car
You can recover damages for the car from your insurance company or that of the at-fault party.
You can also recover these damages from your insurance company even if you were not at-fault for the accident.
The time it takes to recover damages for your car depends on whether the insurance companies dispute your claim. It may also be difficult to recover the full value of the vehicle from your own insurance company.
Lost Earning Capacity
Lost earning capacity damages compensate you for the income you are likely to lose in the future because of your damages. These damages would reward you for what you could have earned if you did not suffer the injuries.
The court will determine the reasonable earnings you can make with the injuries, and what you could have earned without the injury. The difference between incomes is the lost earning capacity.
The court will then evaluate other factors such as:
- Your age
- Your life expectancy
- Career goals and prospects
- The retirement age in your profession
You have to provide proof that the injury affects your earning potential in the future for the court to approve these damages. Such proof can be obtained from the testimony of an occupational expert.
The expert will provide information about the physical and mental requirements of the work. A doctor can also provide details of how the injury affects the ability to meet these requirements.
Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering are a type of non-economic damages awarded to compensate you for the non-monetary losses you suffer from the injury. These include emotional distress, disfigurement, sleep problems, anxiety, and depression.
Pain and suffering arise from the physical injuries you sustained from the accident. The physical pain then causes mental anguish. In some cases, you face mental anguish due to the financial stress associated with the injuries.
For example, if you suffer spinal injuries, you may spend several weeks or months out of work. With the medical bills piling, then you and your family will experience the strain on your finances.
The standards for calculating pain and suffering damages vary depending on the case and the parties in the case. However, some key factors that come into play include:
- The severity of the injuries you suffered and their effect on you in the long-term – for instance, traumatic brain injuries leave the victim suffering headaches even after recovery, therefore, the pain and suffering settlement is likely to be significant
- The age of the victim – younger victims are likely to get higher settlements due to the longer period they are likely to experience the pain of long-term injuries
- The degree of suffering from the injury – if you are likely to suffer prolonged pain for an extended period, then the award will be higher
You can file for punitive damages under California Civil Code 3294. The statute would allow these damages if the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud. For example, drunk driving is an intentional act, which implies malice to other road users.
You do not have to establish that the drunk driver intended to cause harm to you. However, if he or she intentionally drinks and drives, then the act puts road users at an unreasonable threat of harm.
Drinking and driving is interpreted as a conscious disregard for the safety of other motorists. Alcohol manufacturers and driving trainers warn drivers of the dangers of drinking and driving. Therefore, if you suffer an injury due to the driver’s negligence, you can collect punitive damages.
These damages discourage others from engaging in similar actions and punish the defendant for the negligent act.
Before filing a claim against a drunk driver, most people want to know the settlement they are likely to get. Several factors determine the size of the settlement, including:
- Your injuries
- Your defense attorney
- What the insurance company offers
- Any damage to property
- Your contribution, if any, to the accident
- Your recovery
Usually, the driver must notify his or her insurance company after an accident. Even if he or she fails to, then the insurance company will learn of the accident after you file the claim. The insurance company will then assign a claims adjuster to your case.
The first step the claims adjuster takes is gathering evidence of the offense. He or she will conduct interviews with eyewitnesses, the driver, and the victims. What you say to an insurance company can make or break your case.
For starters, always remember that the insurance company is in business for profit. Therefore, it will try to minimize liability to the greatest extent possible. Claim adjusters will calculate the damages owed to you and offer you the least possible amount.
Most people go wrong with the first offer by the insurance company. Considering the amount they offer on its face value will impress you until you calculate your damages.
Settling for the offer by the insurance company is advisable only if you suffered minor injuries or damage to property. However, check to ascertain that the settlement will restore you to your pre-accident state.
If you suffered severe injuries or extensive damage to your property, then the best option is to get a lawyer. The attorney will guide you through the process of calculating what your damages are worth. He or she can then negotiate with the insurance company for a fairer settlement.
In some cases, the insurance company refuses to give the plaintiff a fair hearing, which prompts a lawsuit. Lawsuits are rare — however, the chances of getting a substantial settlement increase.
Find a Orange County Injury Attorney Near Me
Accidents due to drunk driving leave a trail of injuries, death, and damages. They are accidents that the driver can avoid by remaining sober on the road. However, if you are the victim of a car accident due to drunk driving, the Orange County Personal Injury Attorney will represent in your pursuit to recoup your losses. We understand the common evidence required in such cases and the procedures to follow for a successful lawsuit. Reach out to us at 714-876-1959 for a free consultation.