Have you ever wondered what the most common cause of vehicle collisions are in California? Nationwide, it’s driving above the speed limit or too fast for conditions. According to the Insurance Information Institute, nearly 17 percent of crashes that kill someone nationwide are caused by speeding.
For Fatal Collisions, It’s Drunk DrivingLet’s look at California, specifically. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) keeps statistics that tell a different story, depending on whether people have been injured or killed in the collision. More than 3,100 fatal collisions took place in the last year for which statistics are available on California’s roads. Of these, 596 were caused by drunk driving. Speed caused fewer fatal accidents, at 471. In other words, almost 19 percent of fatal crashes were caused by driving while intoxicated, while roughly 15 percent were caused by excessive speed.
For Injury Collisions, It’s Excessive SpeedBut the picture changes when we look at common causes of collisions that injure, rather than kill, people. More than 176,000 crashes injured people in the last year for which statistics are available. Of these, drunk driving caused 12,776, but a much higher number, 54,140, were caused by speeding. In other words, drunk driving causes just over 7 percent of injury collisions; whereas, speeding causes over 30 percent of such collisions. Furthermore, while the DMV categorizes these accidents as caused by either drunk driving or speeding, it’s safe to assume that many vehicle accidents involve both excessive speeding AND intoxication.
What Happens to Drivers Who Are Drunk or Speeding and Cause an Accident?Drivers who have abused alcohol and choose to drive face arrest for such actions. The penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol are steep. If someone is arrested and convicted of driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above, that individual can face jail time of up to six months for a first offense and up to one year for a second or third offense. He or she can be fined, as well, and face license suspension. Drivers who cause a fatal accident while drunk may face more severe criminal charges, including negligent vehicular manslaughter or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The first is a misdemeanor, and the second can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor carries a jail term of up to one year and a fine. A felony generally carries a longer jail term and a larger fine. If a driver speeds and causes an accident that injures someone, it is more likely that he or she will be issued a citation than arrested. The individual will likely be fined, and the amount will depend on how fast he or she was going. If it was excessively fast, the individual can be charged with reckless driving, which could result in a jail sentence. That changes, however, if someone is killed as a result of the individual’s speeding. Prosecutors can charge drivers with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter if the driver negligently kills someone while violating a traffic law, like speeding.
What Recourse(s) Do I Have If I Am Injured by a Drunk or Speeding Driver?While it is just to know that the person who injured you in an auto accident can be arrested and face criminal penalties, you are also entitled to recourse in civil court for financial compensation. If someone else is at fault for an accident that injures you, that individual may be liable for paying your medical bills, wages lost from work, physical injuries, and emotional distress, among other losses. The compensation for these damages includes losses you incurred in the past as well as those you will have in the future. California is a fault state. As a result, you can approach the insurance carrier for the at-fault driver to pay your medical damages, lost wages and physical or emotional injuries. This is known as a third-party claim. If your own insurance company paid for some of your medical expenses, your insurance carrier can also seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. You can also bring a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver in civil court. This may be appropriate if either the third-party insurance carrier isn’t willing to pay you a fair amount. If the lawsuit proceeds all the way to trial, as jury will typically decide what compensation you should receive for both economic losses as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Note that you can file a personal injury lawsuit whether or not the at-fault driver has been arrested and convicted for a crime related to your accident. If he or she is arrested on a DUI or for vehicular manslaughter, that is a criminal matter, and will not be heard in civil court. The at-fault driver’s arrest, however, can be used as evidence of negligence in both third-party and civil court claims, as can a conviction. Evidence of negligence is very important if a plaintiff hopes to win his or her case. California requires financial responsibility from drivers who operate or park a vehicle on the state’s roads. They need to carry the following minimum bodily injury insurance policy limits.
- $15,000 for injury or death to one person in an accident caused by the person with insurance
- $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person in an accident caused by the person with insurance
Do I Have Any Recourse if a Drunk or Speeding Driver’s Actions Caused the Death of My Loved One?Certain individuals can file a wrongful death lawsuit against at-fault drivers if a loved one has been killed in a vehicle accident (or has died specifically from injuries suffered in a car accident). These cases are brought in civil court. They are personal injury suits, where the person making the claim is the surviving family member seeking compensation for loss of the relationship with the deceased. Eligible wrongful death claimants can also recover the cost of funeral and burial expenses as well as loss of the deceased’s financial support, services, love and affection. Wrongful death suits in California can only be brought by the deceased person’s:
- Domestic partner
- Surviving children
- Parents or siblings (if there is no spouse, domestic partner, or child)
- Putative spouse
- Children of a putative spouse