• Julianne

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 jury is advised that there is no fixed standard and that they must determine a “reasonable sum” based on the jury’s “common sense.”

The California legislature has agreed that the state’s citizens should determine what is and is not “fair.” This means that there is no complex legal standard; all that matters is that it is fair and reasonable. While specific approaches have been used in the past, the lack of a true guideline still leaves a lot of room for confusion.


Determining a “reasonable sum” is ultimately very subjective. It is left to the hands of your personal injury lawyer and the jury, who happens to be there when your case is forwarded.


How Pain and Suffering as Justified as Quantifiable Damages


The victim must be compensated for each day and each succeeding day of suffering. This is the most straightforward approach. For the wounded person, there are no days off. The damages should represent the fact that pain happens on a regular basis and does not end after the plaintiff has been discharged from the hospital.


Not experiencing pain has a price. When you have a toothache, you pay to go to the dentist to stop the pain. When you go hungry, you expend money on food. When you are involved in an accident caused by a reckless driver and were permanently disfigured or disabled as a result of it, the price for stopping the pain is high.


This is why the jury often allows for a significant payout for pain and suffering and considers the price fair, reasonable, and sufficient. The medical industry does pose some exorbitant prices.


Many of the above points have the potential to persuade. Nonetheless, the sum of the pain and suffering compensation will be decided by the jury, with the only criteria being “fair and reasonable.” This is why getting a good personal injury lawyer will help when it comes to getting what’s rightfully “fair,” especially in particularly in decisions that are backed by subjective judgment.


Punitive Damages and How You Can Be Compensated


Punitive damages, also known as exemplary damages, are damages given to a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit in addition to the other damages mentioned above. These damages are typically awarded at the discretion of the judge and are intended to punish a criminal who has committed particularly egregious or surprising acts.


This form of commensurable damages is rare but not unheard of. Proof that the defendant or at-fault party behaved with intent, oppression, or fraud is necessary under Civil Code Section 3294. Punitive damages may also be awarded to prevent a criminal from behaving in the same manner in the future.


Punitive damages can be awarded to a company whose acts were reckless, endangered a significant number of customers, and should have been prevented. This may occur when a corporation fails to supervise a product’s production process or knowingly introduces a faulty product into the marketplace, considering its illegality or the risk of serious injury if used.


On the other hand, many states restrict the number of punitive damages that a plaintiff may obtain in a personal injury case. “Damage limits” are the terms used to describe these restrictions. Damage limits are typically governed by state legislation.


A plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant’s conduct constituted deception, oppression, or malice in order to be liable for punitive damages in a personal injury case in California. The requirement of proof that a plaintiff must meet in these circumstances is “simple and compelling facts.” Based on which side has more weighty proof, the need for seeking punitive damages is much more difficult to follow than the standard for obtaining real damages.


Finally, unlike many other jurisdictions, California does not impose a cap on the number of punitive damages that can be paid in a personal injury case. According to the Due Process Provision and Supreme Court precedent, punitive damages would somewhat equate to compensatory damages granted to the plaintiff in such cases.


As a result, all punitive damages payments in personal injury lawsuits in California must at the very least be equal to the real sum of damages.


Other things to consider:


1. You cannot sue for punitive damages alone

The plaintiff had to have been caused “substantial damage” before they are able to qualify for punitive damages. Before you can sue for punitive damages, you will have to have been awarded economic and non-economic damages. You cannot start by seeking compensation for punitive damages at the start of the trial.


2. The court will consider the defendants net worth/income

Punitive damages should bear an “equal relationship” to the real accident, but the jury would not be bound by that ratio. It’s once again a matter of what the jury finds to be fair. This is a way to deter wealthier individuals and corporations from committing the same negligence. The richer the defendant, the more they will have to pay for damages.


Compensation for Past and Future Expenses


Personal Injury claims, particularly ones that have severe monetary and physical effects on the victim, involve asking the court for compensation for all that you have lost due to the injury. This means that you may able to recover not only the past and current expenses but also the future expense and difficulties said injuries would cost you moving forward.


Current and Future Medical Treatments


Emergency medical attention at the scene of the crash, as well as follow-ups, such as physical therapy, are added to the possible damages you might want to demand. The complainant will prove this in court through sufficient evidence of the medical bills. The plaintiff can establish the treatment’s necessity by witness testimony, preferably that of the treating physician, but if they are unavailable, an expert witness can testify to the treatment’s need.


The complainant must show that any alleged medical expenses are fair compared to the cost and necessity of the care they received. They must prove that the following medical costs were incurred in order to be entitled to compensation for future medical expenses:

  • The compensation they are demanding is fair and reasonable

  • The procedures, medication, and rehabilitation is proved necessary in restoring the victim’s quality of life

  • Proof of treatments that victim will need in the future

In order to prove this evidence in court, medical expert testimony is needed. The testimony to prove the price of the compensation doesn’t even have to come from the treating physician; an expert in economics is considered eligible. Medical expert evidence would, however, be needed to explain future medical expenses.


In California, medical costs incurred by private insurance can be collected as losses. In other words, medical costs are not purely monetary in nature. Special and economic damages may be sought for the plaintiff’s insurance costs.


As a result, plaintiffs are entitled to reimbursement for medical costs such as:

  • ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses for treatment of the injury

  • Insurance claims

  • Other possible reimbursement claims


Proving A Loss in Future Income/Wage


Was your injury stopping you from working? The loss of earnings includes any salaries, commissions, incentives, or other financial earnings or fringe benefits that would have been accrued if the accident had not occurred. Many who have already worked will regain any earnings that have been lost or will be lost as a result of their absence.


As proof of missed earnings, salary stubs, paychecks, wage receipts, and other records are gathered and presented to the court. Colleagues, accountants, and clients of the injured person will also testify to corroborate the documentation and provide a better basis for the jury’s decision.


All of the above, which the injured party would have gotten if the injury hadn’t happened, is factored into the potential earnings loss. Benefits such as social security are often taken into account for the time or years that should have been contributed but were not. It’s important to bear in mind that the purpose of damages is to place the injured person in the same position as if the accident never existed.


The criterion for claiming missed future earnings is the same as for proving future medical expenses: you must prove that the future earnings were reasonably likely to occur even though the accident did not occur.

To prove that the earnings were almost certain to occur, the injured would show two things:

  • how long will they be unable to return to their former job or jobs in general?

  • What they would have earned if the injury hadn’t happened?


In most cases, your legal team will use the testimony of a medical specialist to decide how long it will take them to return to their previous career or any job. They should be able to give a clinical opinion about how long the injury would prohibit the individual from functioning in general or at the same level as before.


Calculating the Long-Term Impacts on Your Work Ability


Another example is when a victim’s ability to function has been seriously reduced. In simpler terms, a person would be unable to function in general or at the same level as before the injury.


Suppose the injured party can competently testify as to what they might have got. In that case, the court may call an economic consultant or an expert in the field of jobs upon to measure a fair yet equitable estimate of their earnings.


Many factors are included in this investigation, including the injured party’s actual earnings at the time of the accident, his or her chances of promotion, his or her life expectancy, overall economic patterns, and the economic trends of the injured party’s career.


If the injury is serious enough that the injured person may be unable to pursue their expected career, they are therefore entitled to compensation. In this case, the damages amount should represent the amount that would have been received minus the amount that the injured party would receive from any alternative jobs if that is even possible.


The jury would need an economist’s expert witness testimony to show how much would have been gained. When determining whether or not the injured person intended to pursue a career, a variety of factors are considered. Obviously, witnesses familiar with the injured party’s intentions and how far the injured party has progressed in implementing those plans are critical.


You should also be compensated for the previously stated “intangible losses.” While it may be in your best interests to settle your case on your own, you should wait until you are confident you have completely recovered (you won’t be able to get much later if your pain returns) and have at least spoken with a credible personal injury lawyer who will give you an honest opinion of whether hiring an attorney to represent you is worth it.


If you have more severe injuries or are now recovering from the consequences, it is strongly recommended that you should not consider an insurance company’s offer to settle.

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What do you do in the event of a wrongful death?


Suppose you or a family member is involved in an accident that results in the death of one or more individuals. In that case, you can pursue various legal options in addition to Personal Injury. This is possible in most DUI cases, considering how much a drunk driver’s senses are hampered while intoxicated.


In California, you can sue for damages if someone dies due to someone else’s negligence. However, only if you are one of the following:

  • The victim’s spouse or registered intimate partner

  • The victim’s children who are still alive

  • Any of the victim’s grandchildren may be a suspect.

  • If the victim’s parents and stepchildren were financially dependent on the victim (and there were no living children, siblings, or other relatives who would have inherited from the victim if the victim died without a will)

If the accident victim did not die immediately, your attorney could bring a survival case alongside a wrongful death lawsuit. Every beneficiary of the victim’s estate is entitled to a portion of the payout if the victim’s estate files a survival act.


In most survival act settlements, the following things are normally included:

  • A community property stake in the victim’s spouse’s potential earnings

  • Other financial losses incurred by family members that would have been candidates for assistance if the deceased had not been killed

  • The victim loses love, companionship, security, affection, social and moral support.

  • In the case of a spouse or domestic partner, the loss of gratification from sexual intercourse with the victim

  • The victim loses the capacity to look after their children

  • The victim’s pain and suffering and economic damages such as treatment expenses and income loss are included in survival compensation between the time of the accident and the time of death.


Do Damage Caps Exist Under California Law?


In certain jurisdictions, the amount of money a personal injury survivor will obtain in compensation for their losses is capped. “Damage caps” are the words used to define these limitations. In California, the amount of money an individual may claim for economic damages after an accident is not limited. Medical expenses, missed earnings, monetary costs, and other compensatory damages are all protected by this policy.


The amount of money an individual may be paid for pain and suffering damages, also known as non-economic damages, has no caps in most personal injury cases. If you have experienced injury, wrongful death, or the survival of a loved one, then you can sue for as many damages as you can.


Do You Need A Lawyer?


Since filing a personal injury case in California necessitates advanced expertise and familiarity with the California legal system, as well as a detailed understanding of how to file personal injury cases, you can never file a personal injury lawsuit without the assistance of a lawyer.


In these cases, the fees you would pay a personal injury lawyer to represent you would be well worth it. This is because, in some cases, only a skilled attorney can get you the monetary compensation you deserve for your injuries and other damages caused by your accident.


Find Personal Injury Lawyers in California


Working with a personal injury lawyer who practices in the county where you live is always a smart idea. Aside from the ease of getting a lawyer close to your home, it’s also good to recognize that they’ve filed personal injury cases in the Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego county court systems.


1000Attorneys.com offers a referral service that will match you with an attorney who can best handle your case. If you are unsure about proceeding with your claims, there’s also a 24/7 live chat for a team to look over your case’s details.

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