I Was Hit by a Drunk Driver in California: Can I Sue?


Are you wondering, I was hit by a drunk driver in California, now what? How do I pay these medical bills?

When you’re hit by a drunk driver, what’s the settlement process? What about all the work that I’m missing? Do I have to go through my insurance company?

It can be overwhelming trying to cover all the bases. Here, we answer some of those questions and guide you through the next steps.

You Can Sue a Drunk Driver for Your Injuries and Damages

As a plaintiff (that is, someone who has suffered harm), you must prove that the driver was negligent and their negligence caused your injuries. In California, drivers owe a duty of care to other motorists, pedestrians, and even their own passengers in exchange for driving privileges.

Failure to exercise a reasonable level of care when driving is negligence. In California, it is illegal for an intoxicated person to operate a motor vehicle. If their intoxication impairs their driving abilities, they are negligent. As a plaintiff, you must prove that their intoxication is what caused the accident and therefore your injuries.

Unlike in their DUI case, however, you must only prove their liability by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that it is more likely than not that they drove under the influence and their act of doing so resulted in your injuries.

Someone does not need a DUI conviction to be guilty of negligence in civil court, however, a DUI conviction proves that they are negligent in the civil case.

What Settlement Amount Can I Expect?

Unfortunately, there are no average settlements for drunk driving accidents. Compensation for being hit by a drunk driver depends on the circumstances of each case and the actual damages involved. 

Additionally, California is a comparative negligence state, which means that you can recover only that percentage of damages that is not your fault. For example, let’s say you were driving up a residential street while talking on the phone.

You do not notice Jane backing out of her driveway without looking until it is too late, and you end up hitting her car in the passenger side.

The responding officer smells alcohol on her breath, arrests her for DUI, and her blood alcohol test comes back over the legal limit. You both sustained injuries and sued each other for damages. 

In court, the jury decides that the accident happened mostly because you were not paying attention and that you were 60% responsible. In numbers, if your damages are $100,000, and Jane’s damages are $90,000, you are entitled to 40%, or $40,000 and Jane is entitled to $54,000, or 60%. So Jane receives $14,000 because the amounts are offset.

What Kinds of Damages Are Possible?

Possible damages in a DUI case include economic, non-economic, and punitive damages:

  • Medical bills,
  • Post-accident medical care,
  • Physical therapy or occupational rehabilitation,
  • Lost wages,
  • Pain and suffering, and
  • Lost earning capacity.

You must prove that you did in fact suffer the damages and that the damages are a direct result of the accident and the driver’s negligence.

Punitive damages in DUI civil cases are available if you can prove malice, which means conduct carried out with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others. The malice test is whether the defendant was aware of the likely consequences of their actions and they willfully failed to avoid them.

The California Supreme Court has held that malice occurs when someone voluntarily becomes intoxicated even though they know they must operate a motor vehicle.

It is important to have an experienced personal injury attorney on your side to help you determine what kind of damages you might receive when a drunk driver causes an accident that results in injury to you. 

Does Auto Insurance Cover DUI Accidents?

Someone’s auto insurance policy should pay damages when they injure someone while driving intoxicated, up to their policy limits. The insurance companies will only pay compensatory damages, not punitive ones. 

What happens if their policy limits don’t cover all of your damages? You can go through your own auto insurance up to the limits of your uninsured/underinsured motorist policy. If that still doesn’t cover the amount, you will have to sue the defendant directly.

What If My Loved One Was the Victim of a DUI Accident?

Family members of DUI accidents victims may also recover compensation. A victim’s family member can bring a claim for wrongful death, loss of consortium, or survival action. A wrongful death action compensates someone who is closely related to the victim, such as a spouse, child, or parent.

Possible damages for wrongful death include funeral expenses, compensation for loss of companionship, and lost future wages. Survival actions often accompany wrongful death actions. Damages for survival actions compensate the victim’s estate. Eligible damages include those sustained after the accident but before their death.

They can include medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, and property damages. Loss of consortium actions are available to spouses or domestic partners who can prove a valid marriage or domestic partnership. Loss of consortium means loss of companionship—these are non-economic damages, akin to damages for pain and suffering.

If a Drunk Driver Injured You or Your Loved One, Call Wakeford Law Firm

If you or your family member was in an accident with a drunk driver, you need an experienced injury attorney on your side. The insurance company will do all that it can to reduce the amount of money it has to pay you. It has a team of lawyers, especially for this purpose.

The insurance company will try to show that the accident was your fault or that it wasn’t the driver’s intoxication that caused the accident. You need an attorney who can stand up for you, whether you were a pedestrian, riding a motorcycle, or driving a vehicle.

Your attorney can help you collect evidence and determine your damages and the value of your case. They will help you navigate the comparative negligence laws and maximize your compensation. You need competence on your side, and Wakeford Law Firm has experienced accident attorneys who can help. Contact Wakeford Law Firm today to schedule your consultation.

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