Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in California can have serious criminal consequences, including time in prison, revoked driving privileges, and significant fines. California also allows victims of DUI accidents to file personal injury lawsuits against the drunk drivers who cause an injury-causing accident. The success of a civil lawsuit doesn’t depend on the success of a conviction, but a conviction can help to carry required the burden of proof.
Last month, a California driver was arrested for a suspected DUI after a fiery fatal crash closed the 405 Freeway near LAX in the early morning hours. California Highway Patrol is still investigating the cause of the accident, but drugs and/or alcohol seemed to play a key role in the deadly accident. If convicted, the allegedly intoxicated driver could face time in prison for getting behind the wheel and causing the death of another person. The victim’s family may be able to recover compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. Other victims of the crash, who were lucky enough to survive, may also be able to seek damages for injuries of their own through a civil claim against the drunk driver.
Driving under the influence in California can have significant consequences, often leaving drunk drivers vulnerable to both criminal and civil charges. Far too often, DUI crashes leave families grieving the loss of a loved one. In fact, between 2003 and 2013 more than 10,000 people were killed in California drunk driving accidents. To help ease the pain related to their losses, the families of these victims could have filed wrongful death lawsuits against the drunk drivers who caused the fatal accidents.
In California, families of fatally-injured accident victims may file a personal injury claim for damages against the at-fault party. A wrongful death occurs when a person is killed as the wrongful conduct or negligence of another person. Generally, families may file a wrongful death claim for damages against a drunk driver in California within two years of the accident and/or death of a loved one.
A successful wrongful death lawsuit will require a family member (or other statutorily permissible party) to prove that a loved one died as the result of the wrongful or negligent conduct of another person, and that the family suffered an injury as a result. These injuries may be financial (such as out-of-pocket medical expenses prior to the victim’s death or funeral costs), or intangible (for pain and suffering, lost support, or loss of companionship).
In both personal injury and wrongful death claims for damages, a plaintiff will be required to prove that the negligence or wrongful conduct of a drunk driver caused an injury (or death). While the conviction of a driver for a DUI charge is not necessary for a successful civil case, it can be beneficial in satisfying the elements of a case based on negligence.
If an at-fault driver is criminally charged with a DUI, a civil case may be able to proceed on the basis of negligence per se. In its most basic form, negligence per se means that:
For example, California has laws that prohibit and punish drivers from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle if their blood alcohol content exceeds .08%. The purpose of this law is to protect other drivers on the road from the dangers of drunk driving. A driver who violates this law – and subsequently harms another person while violating the law – would likely be found to be negligent per se. If, however, a driver is the possession of an illegal substance – but not under the influence of that illegal substance at the time of a crash – he or she would not be negligent per se. The laws prohibiting the possession of illegal substances are not designed to protect the public from injuries in a car accident. The driver may, however, be negligent. Proving negligence, as opposed to negligence per se, requires significantly more evidence.
If law enforcement and the state lack the evidence to prove that a driver suspected of a DUI, a civil lawsuit against the driver would have to proceed on the grounds of negligence. Proving negligence requires proving that the allegedly-drunk (and at-fault) driver: (1) had a duty to other drivers on the road to drive safely and abide by the law; (2) breached this duty by driving in a manner inconsistent with the law; and (3) caused an injury to another person.
Causation can be tricky. Plaintiffs must prove two types of causation: actual and proximate. Actual causation is the easier of the two, and simply requires proving that the at-fault driver’s actions directly caused an injury.
Proximate causation, on the other hand, can require some nuanced legal arguments. Simply put, a plaintiff must prove that an injury would not have occurred but for the at-fault driver’s conduct. For example, if you are injured in a crash with a drunk driver because that drunk driver sped through a stop sign and hit your car you probably won’t have much difficulty proving that but for the driver’s actions you would not have been injured. If, however, a drunk driver swerves to avoid a falling tree during a windy storm and happens to hit your car, it may be more difficult to prove proximate causation. The driver may have been under the influence of alcohol, but it is more likely true that the falling tree was what caused him to swerve into your car. An experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney understands the gray areas of proximate causation and will be able to establish which facts are most helpful to proving your case.
If you have been injured – or have lost a loved one – in a Los Angeles drunk driving accident you should contact an experienced California personal injury attorney to learn about the legal options that may be available to you. At Joshua W. Glozter APC, our attorneys understand the stresses involved in recovering from a drunk driving accident and are available to help victims recover the compensation they deserve. We fight to hold drunk drivers accountable for their actions and to maximize the compensation our clients receive. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.
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