Approximately one out of every three traffic deaths involves an intoxicated driver. This past year in California, there was a total of 867drunk-driving fatalities – a 4.6% increase from the previous year. Car accidents caused by drunk driving often lead to criminal charges against the driver, who may face a misdemeanor or a felony charge depending on the circumstances of the case. Victims of drunk driving accidents may also seek monetary damages through the civil law process. If you have been hit and injured by a drunk driver, you have the right to pursue civil compensation.
Personal Injury Cases Against DUI Drunk Drivers in California
In California, victims of DUI auto accidents may file a personal injury claim that allows them to recover compensation for their damages. The criminal case that the state may be pursuing against the drunk driver is separate from any potential civil case, and victims may not receive any compensation through the criminal law system. A victim must file a personal injury lawsuit against the drunk driver in order to hold the driver liable for civil damages.
In a personal injury suit claiming negligence, a plaintiff can attempt to recover:
- Past and future medical expenses;
- Property damage;
- Lost wages;
- Loss of earning capacity;
- An award for pain and suffering; and possibly
- Punitive damages.
Occasionally, punitive damages may be pursued against the defendant drunk driver. Punitive damages exceed the actual losses incurred by the plaintiff and are intended to punish the defendant for his or her behavior. They are also intended to deter the defendant and others from acting negligently in the future. To be awarded punitive damages in California, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted with a "conscious disregard" of the rights or safety of another person. This means the plaintiff must demonstrate to the court that the defendant was aware of the probable consequences of his conduct, and that he willfully and deliberately neglected to avoid those consequences.
California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1 limits a victim's time to file a lawsuit to two years from the date of the accident.
A Wrongful Death Case Against DUI Drivers in California
California law provides the nearest surviving relative of a victim who was killed in a drunk driving accident the right to file a wrongful death suit on the decedent's behalf. In addition to medical bills incurred after the accident and prior to death, the plaintiff may also recover funeral expenses, lost future income, property damages, mental anguish damages, and damages for loss of care and services.
Should You Settle Your Claim?
After the accident, the drunk driver's insurance company may attempt to settle the issue by offering a sum of money in exchange for dropping any claims the victim may have against the driver. You should speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you accept a settlement offer. The insurance company only wants to pay a minimal amount and does not care about the victim's best interests. Oftentimes, certain unexpected expenses will not be factored into the sum offered by the insurance company, such as those for future surgeries and treatments.
The Uninsured or Underinsured Drunk Driver
After being the victim of a drunk driving accident, it can be quite frustrating to learn that the drunk driver lacked a sufficient amount of insurance coverage or did not have any insurance at all. While California law does not require drivers to carry such coverage, if the victim's policy includes uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, the victim may be able to make a claim against her or his own insurance company.
Do You Have a Viable Claim?
If you or a loved one has been a victim of DUI or drunk driving accident in Los Angeles or Orange County, California, call attorney Scott D. Hughes today at (714) 423-6928 to review your potential claims. Attorney Hughes can evaluate the viability of your civil lawsuit against the drunk driver and help you pursue compensation.
California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1, Legal Info.
California Drunk Driving, Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Jason Lundberg, Monetary Damages in California Drunk Driving Accidents, HG Legal Resources.
The State Bar of California, What Should I Do if I Have an Auto Accident?