If you have been injured by a DUI driver, you can contact us for a free consultation and case evaluation after the accident in Los Angeles or anywhere in California. Upon being retained, we’ll start our investigation right away so that we can include all possible parties who might have contributed to the driver’s intoxication.
Criminal Charges VS Personal Injury Cases
Two cases can spin off of a DUI accident. First, there’s the DUI criminal prosecution, and then there can be a civil case seeking damages for injuries. The victim does not need to wait for a disposition of the DUI case to file his or her civil lawsuit.
A personal injury lawsuit can be filed right away for two reasons:
- The criminal DUI case doesn’t provide for an award of damages.
- The burden of proof in a civil case is different than that in a criminal case.
In a civil personal injury case, the claimant must prove that the defendant was negligent. That’s done by proving the elements of negligence. Those are that the defendant:
- Owed the claimant a duty of care
- He or she breached that duty
- The breach of that duty caused the accident
- The accident caused the claimant’s injuries
- The claimant suffered legally recognized damages
Each and every one of the elements of damages must be proved. Failure to prove any single element will cause the claimant’s case to fail. That might sound like a drunk driver isn’t necessarily a negligent driver, but the drunk driver would be guilty of negligence per se as a result of the violation of a statute.
Pursuant to the California Evidence Code section 669, the elements of negligence per se are that:
- The defendant violated a statute, ordinance or regulation of a public entity
- The violation proximately caused the claimant’s injury
- The injury resulted from an occurrence that the statute, ordinance or regulation was intended to prevent
The burden of proof
In a criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil personal injury case, the claimant also has the burden of proof, but it’s a lower burden. He or she must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence. That means that the claimant’s version of events is more likely true than not true. Whether or not a conviction results in the criminal case is irrelevant in the civil case, but certain evidence or admissions in the criminal case might be able to be used in the civil case.
Who can be held liable for DUI accidents in Los Angeles?
Of course, the drunk driver who caused an accident can be held liable for damages in a civil lawsuit.
However, others who might be held liable include social hosts who overserved guests along with the owners and employees of bars and restaurants who served customers who they knew or should have known were intoxicated. This is known as dram shop liability.
Damages recoverable from injuries in DUI accidents
Assuming that all of the elements of negligence are indeed proved, the issue of what type of compensation the claimant might be eligible for arises.
Some common damages sought in DUI accident and personal injury cases include:
- Past and future medical bills
- Past and future lost earnings
- Any permanent disfigurement
- Any permanent disability
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of a normal life
- Funeral and burial expenses in the event of a wrongful death
Punitive damages in DUI accidents
Section 3294 of the California Civil Code permits an award of punitive damages if a defendant is found to be guilty of “oppression, fraud or malice” by clear and convincing evidence. By way of case law in Taylor vs. Superior Court, the California Supreme Court extended punitive damages to drunk driving personal injury cases. The claimant must show that the “defendant was aware of the probable dangerous consequences of his conduct, and that he willfully and deliberately failed to avoid those consequences.” That doesn’t mean that punitive damages will be paid every time that a drunk driver causes a personal injury accident.
Insurers typically exclude punitive damages from coverage, and other case law has held that the punishment and burden of punitive damages shouldn’t be shifted over onto an insurer. On that rule, a claimant who is awarded punitive damages must reach for the defendant’s personal assets to get paid. Compensatory damages will likely remain the burden of the insurer though.
Contact a Los Angeles Car Accident Lawyer after a DUI accident
Important evidence can get lost or destroyed, and witnesses can disappear. There’s no reason to delay in contacting us. Since we take these cases on a contingency fee basis, no legal fees are even due unless we obtain compensation for you. Please feel free to see our resource on Los Angeles Car Accidents or contact us here.