Under California Vehicle Code § 23152a, it is a misdemeanor to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, in spite of extensive campaigns, drunk driving persists throughout the state. While under the influence, a driver’s reflexes are impaired, and they may use extremely poor judgment or even black out while at the wheel. If you were involved in a crash caused by an intoxicated driver, the Folsom DUI attorneys at The Law Office of Black & DePaoli, PC may be able to help you recover compensation. Serious injuries may result from these collisions, making it important to enlist a car accident lawyer who can fight for your rights throughout the legal process.
Bringing a Personal Injury Claim After a Drunk Driving Accident
It is always a good idea to contact the police if you are hurt in a car accident, but it is particularly critical if you suspect that the driver who caused your accident was under the influence. Police officers can administer a Breathalyzer to find out for sure and potentially arrest the other driver. A violation of California Vehicle Code § 23152a is likely to be considered negligence per se. Under California Evidence Code § 669, negligence per se applies when the defendant violated a regulation, ordinance, or statute, the violation was the legal cause of your injuries, and the statute was designed to prevent an accident like the one in which you suffered injuries. Negligence per se tends to be useful in a drunk driving case because usually it shifts the focus from liability to damages. In other words, the main issue will be how much the defendant should pay you, rather than whether they should pay you.
If negligence or negligence per se is successfully established, you may be able to recover compensatory damages, which are damages designed to make you whole. These may include past and future medical costs, medical mileage, vocational rehabilitation, services necessary due to your injuries, lost enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. Often, punitive damages are also available.
Typically, punitive damages are not available in personal injury lawsuits, including those involving the negligent operation of a motor vehicle. However, in California, since 1979, courts may award punitive damages in a drunk driving accident lawsuit if you can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice, fraud, or oppression. California courts have found that people who willfully drink alcoholic beverages to the point of drunkenness, knowing that they will need to drive afterward, may be found to have exhibited a conscious disregard for others, which is usually sufficient to recover punitive damages.
The purpose of these damages is to punish and deter the defendant, rather than compensate the victim. The defendant will need to pay these damages from their own pocket, while their insurer may pay you compensatory damages.