• JC Serrano

Drunk Driver Accidents in California: Getting a Personal Injury Lawyer

Updated: Apr 26

What damages are victims entitled to after a DUI accident?


DUI, or “driving under the influence,” is one of the leading causes of traffic accidents in California and the United States. Alcohol impedes multiple body functions, including one’s ability to see or discern their surroundings.

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This endangers the driver and the passengers, and the people who might be hurt when the DUI leads to a car crash. Whether you are a passenger of a drunk driver or are in another car that’s been crashed into, any injuries you might come away with are grounds for a Personal Injury case.


What’s Being Done About Drunk Drivers?


Sobriety checks are used to assess whether or not someone is intoxicated. On rare occasions, police officers will conduct traffic arrests on the presumption that a driver is drunk (the officer can sometimes discern this from a suspected driver’s terrible driving). The officer may demand that the driver complete a field sobriety test to check for intoxicated for intoxication.


In most situations, an officer will ask for authorization to perform the said tests. Walking in a straight line (heel-toe), standing on one foot while counting aloud, and letting the suspect following a pen with their eyes are all examples. The officer might use a Breathalyzer, or in some cases, take the suspected driver to a hospital for a urinalysis.


Can a Driver Refuse?


Drivers may refuse to take these exams, but there are legal implications under the “implied consent” rules. The premise is that by signing papers to register for a driver’s license and then driving on the road, drivers have consented to alcohol and chemical tests if they are stopped by law enforcement.


They will face penalties if they fail to agree to such testing, which varies from state to state. In Massachusetts, for example, a six-month license suspension is compulsory, but this does not imply liability in the event of a court case.


Any driver with a BAC of 0.08 or higher is considered illegal to drive in all states. This means that no additional evidence is needed. This is what the district attorney needs to charge them with driving under the influence.


This does not rule out the likelihood of a driver being convicted even though his blood alcohol content (BAC) is less than 0.08. A police officer can testify claims to a driver’s erratic driving and may pull out CCTV and other supporting pieces of evidence of recklessness.


Consequences of a DUI


They face harsh punishments that begin with probation and progress to community service, fines, and eventually prison time.


The driver’s prior convictions will determine the severity of the penalties. Is he a repeat offender? Was he driving at the time with a kid in the car? Was there any harm to the property? Was he behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle? Is someone dead? Was he old enough to drink legally?


There will be a simultaneous effect on the accused driving rights, in addition to criminal penalties. When drivers operate over the state limit for alcohol or fail to submit to drug tests, states grant their motor vehicle departments the authority to revoke their licenses. They can also impound vehicles and charge the driver for any expenses incurred as a result. What’s the best part? This happens before a DUI conviction. In most cases, a driver may seek a temporary driver’s license while arguing for their driving privileges to be restored in the meantime.


Many states now require penalized drivers to use a car interlock system (also known as an ignition interlock), which tests a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and immobilizes the vehicle if it detects alcohol. The driver will be responsible for the rental, installation, and maintenance of the interlock device, much as the car will be impounded.


What is an Ignition Interlock?


A judge may order the installation of an ignition interlock system in any vehicle that the offender owns or operates if the offender is convicted of their first DUI.


When it comes to a first-time offender with a BAC of.20 or higher, the judge must heavily consider this decision before enforcing this sentence. If the judge orders the restriction, the length of time will be decided by the judge, but it will not be more than three years.


An individual who is convicted of a second DUI within the last ten years may be given a restricted driver’s license (if they apply), which allows them to drive only if the vehicle is fitted with an ignition interlock system. Second-time offenders can only apply for this restricted license after serving a suspension or revocation period of 12 months. If the application is approved, the restriction will be in place for at least the remainder of the suspension.


DUI in California Law


The conditions for driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) in California are different. The fee is determined by the driver’s age and whether the car is personal or commercial. You will be charged with DUI or DWI in the state if you are:

  • Over the age of 21, with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher

  • Under the age of 21 and with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01 percent or higher

  • Operating or driving a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.04 percent or higher is illegal.

  • For drivers under the age of 21, California has a zero-tolerance blood alcohol policy. Drivers in this age group that are found to have some amount of alcohol in their system will be charged with DUI.

A DUI charge involves not only driving while inebriated but also driving after consuming illicit drugs. Suppose they drive and are flagged or trigger an accident when taking over-the-counter or prescription medication with known side effects such as sleepiness, disorientation, general impairment, and similar conditions. In that case, they may be prosecuted for DUI.


For Commercial Drivers


The first time a commercial driver commits a DUI, they may be barred from driving a commercial vehicle for one year, in addition to other penalties as per California’s DUI laws. The revocation period would be three years if the DUI was committed while the driver was on a motor vehicle carrying dangerous materials. If a commercial driver is convicted of a second DUI, they may be banned from running a commercial vehicle for the remainder of their life, which may or may not be shortened to ten years.


For Driving Under the Age of 21


An individual under the age of 21 is prohibited from driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of.01 or higher under California’s Zero Tolerance Rule. While nothing prevents an underage DUI driver from being charged under adult DUI rules, first-time offenders over the age of 18 will have their driving privileges revoked and will be required to complete an alcohol education program. After presenting evidence of successful completion of the program, the offender’s driver’s license may be restored.


What Happens if You Were Injured in a DUI Incident?


If you were injured as a direct result of someone driving under the influence, then you might have a solid Personal Injury claim.


When one party injures or physically hurts another, most commonly due to a failure to behave with reasonable care or caution in a given situation, the victim can file a personal injury lawsuit. Any personal injury case will have its own set of factors, and it can be challenging to determine how each person will treat a claim.


However, most cases of injuries caused by a DUI are pretty straightforward. Suppose the defendant is found to be illegally driving under the provisions of California Law, and their negligence has lead to any of your injuries. In that case, you already have a strong claim. However, the types of compensation you are entitled to collecting are solely dependent on how the case is handled in court.


In this context, negligence is characterized as one party’s failure to uphold a duty of care in a given case, and it is a critical component of any personal injury litigation. The negligent party’s insurance policy is usually responsible for the victim’s pain and suffering, medical costs, and ongoing medical expenses.


What Constitutes a Personal Injury Claim?


You could be entitled to file a complaint if you were injured or hurt as a result of someone else’s negligence, carelessness, or misconduct.


Negligence in Personal Injury Cases


The term “negligence” is most often described as the inability to exercise appropriate caution. To win a personal injury case, a plaintiff or survivor and their personal injury lawyer must prove that the defendant in the claim was liable indirectly causing the plaintiff’s injuries.


It’s important to identify the breach of duty of care and include a thorough breakdown of all costs sustained as a result of the breach. One of the most critical aspects of securing full compensation in your lawsuit is proving the other party’s responsibility in the case. The majority of accident and injury cases would hinge on demonstrating the negligence of the defendant.


However, a DUI, if proven after an investigation, is already considered an act of negligence. After this, the next step would be to calculate and quantify the damages you need to be compensated for.


Your personal injury lawyer will warn you of any circumstances in your case that can make the legal process more complicated as you establish your personal injury claim. Personal injury claimants in California face several problems, including unpredictable liability among various parties and comparative negligence.


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What Are the Payable Damages?


There are two types of awards for personal injury claims under California law: economic and non-economic damages.


Economic Damages refer to ‘tangible losses.’ These can easily be itemized and summed up by a financial specialist. This includes all the monetary losses that came with the incident. In most cases, future losses can be counted, too, as long as your personal injury lawyer is able to prove it in court.


Here are examples of economic damages:

  • Medical bills

  • Lost property (including your car or any items in your possession that have been destroyed as a result of the incident)

  • Lost wages or salaries

  • Reduced capacity to earn

  • Recovery and rehabilitation costs


Non-economic Damages are ‘more intangible’ losses. This includes everything that cannot easily be quantified, like Economic Damages, because they are often ‘Human Damages.’ These may take the form of mental and psychological disorders that you would not have had without the injury.

  • Disfigurement

  • Mental anguish

  • Physical and mental disabilities

  • Grief

  • Anxiety and Depression

  • PTSD

  • Embarrassment or shame

  • Loss of relationships

  • Loss of enjoyment of life


How Do You Quantify Pain and Suffering?


Even the most serious injuries warrant proof of pain and suffering. You and your legal team can do this in a number of different ways:

  • The injured party will still testify to how much and how long they were in pain.

  • The doctor, as well as family and friends, will testify to the injured party’s pain.

In court and during mediation proceedings, evidence that the injured party obtained medical assistance for their pain and suffering is important.

As a condition, pain and suffering damages awarded must be fair or reasonable, but there are no fixed limits to how much you can sue for. Under Jury Instruction CACI 3905A, the