This page discusses the rights of victims hurt in drunk driving accidents. The point of this page is to provide injury victims with basic information regarding civil lawsuits against drunk drivers. This page is not a substitute for speaking with a personal injury lawyer, but will give you some additional knowledge before your consultation.
This page covers:
- Drunk driving accident injuries and civil lawsuits
- Drunk driving accidents statistics
- What is the difference between civil and criminal drunk driving accidents?
- Who is liable in drunk driving accidents?
- What can you get out of drunk driving accidents claims?
- What should you do if you have been in a drunk driving accident?
- The statute of limitations for your drunk driving accidents claim
- Consulting a drunk driving accidents lawyer
We are a San Diego personal injury law firm. We provide hope for seriously injured people.
Injuries in Drunk Driving Accidents & Civil Lawsuits
Everyone knows that driving drunk is a crime. It is against the law “for a person who has 0.08 percent or more, by weight, of alcohol in his or her blood to drive a vehicle.” California Vehicle Code § 23152(b).
What is less known is that if you’re injured by a drunk driver, you can sue that person or company for personal injuries. General principles of negligence, along with CA’s Vehicle Code, create this liability:
It is unlawful for a person, while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle and concurrently do any act forbidden by law, or neglect any duty imposed by law in driving the vehicle, which act or neglect proximately causes bodily injury to any person other than the driver. California Vehicle Code § 23153(a)
California Vehicle Code § 23152(a) also says that “it is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.” That means that even if the driver is under the 0.08 percent mark in (b), they may still be charged with drunk driving criminally or found negligent in a civil lawsuit. In this case, it will just be harder to prove.
What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Drunk Driving Accidents?
CA lawmakers have stated that “[i]n order to preserve and protect a victim’s rights to justice and due process, a victim shall be entitled . . . to restitution.” This restitution is ordered from the wrongdoer. This means that there are civil consequences in addition to the criminal ones in drunk driving accidents. The main differences between civil and criminal liability in drunk driving accidents is the following:
- Who brings the lawsuit?
- Civil – Your personal injury lawyer will file this suit on your behalf.
- Criminal – The District Attorney’s office will file the criminal charges against the driver. Your lawyer and you will have little say if, and when, this gets filed.
- Proving liability
- Civil – Your personal attorney must convince a majority of the jurors on the panel that the drunk driver was, more likely than not, responsible for the accident and subsequent injuries.
- Criminal – Criminal acts come with harsher penalties, and because of this the DA has a higher burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt).
- The consequences
- Civil – “Restitution” is a fancy word for the law trying to put you back in the same condition you would have been if the accident had never occurred. Thus, you could be awarded monetary damages for lost income, medical expenses, emotional distress, loss of intimacy, and even punitive damages (Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal.3d 890).
- Criminal – If the drunk driver is convicted on a charge of drunk driving with injury, they will be punished with a suspended license, 90 days to one year of imprisonment and a fine of $390-$1000. Keep in mind that you do not receive the proceeds of this fine.
Drunk Driving Accidents Statistics
The California DMV reports that from 1998-2008, there were an average of 188,405 DUI arrests per year. In that same timespan, there were an average of 1375 alcohol-involved fatalities representing as much as 39.8% of total fatalities in California in 2008.
Who is Responsible in Drunk Driving Accidents?
The obvious answer to this question is the drunk driver. However, if someone sells or provides alcohol to a minor that causes the accident, the person who gave the alcohol to the minor may also be liable. Otherwise, businesses that serve alcohol are generally protected from such liability.
What Should You Do if You Are Involved in a Drunk Driving Accident?
If you are in a vehicular accident with a drunk driver:
- Stop your vehicle. Veh. Code § 20001 states that you must immediately stop there are any injuries. If there is only property damaged, Cal. Veh. Code § 20002 says you can pullover at the closest place that does not impedge traffic.
- Get immediate medical attention for any injuries you have sustained and be sure to provide your physician with as much detail as possible about the accident and pains suffered.
- Contact the police and make sure you see who was driving so they do not switch seats.
- Get the drunk driver’s license plate number, driver’s license number, registration, and insurance information. This is required by Veh. Code 20002(b) and (c).
- Get the contact information for any witnesses present. Veh. Code 20003(a) requires drivers to provide the names and contact information of all passengers in the accident.
- Take pictures of the scene of the accident, vehicular damage, and any injuries sustained.
- File a written report. If an injury has occurred, you must submit a written report within 24 hours to CHP per Veh. Code 20008(a).
- Contact a personal injury lawyer.
If you are a pedestrian, all of the above apply outside of stopping your vehicle.
How Long Do I Have to File My Lawsuit?
The statute of limitations for your drunk driving accidents injury claim is two years. Meanwhile, the time limit for the damage to your property (i.e. your car) is three years. These time limits are very important, so we highly recommend that you contact a injury lawyer immediately following the incident. Don’t wait until after the DA has prosecuted the driver. Call an injury lawyer immediately.
Consultations with a Lawyer
If you or a loved one have been injured in a drunk driving accident, you should have your case reviewed by a lawyer immediately. Our office provides free consultations for all callers. Additionally, our attorney works on a contingency fee. This means that you do not pay a penny unless the lawyer wins your case. Our office will also front all the costs of your trial. These costs will also be recovered from the settlement or verdict.
 Cal. Const. Art 1, § 28(b)(13)(B)