Drunk driving accidents can be serious and fatalities caused by inebriated drivers in California appear to be on the rise. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety’s most recent statistics alcohol-related traffic fatalities increased by over 16% between 2015 and 2016, to over 1,000 deaths that year. In 2015, California law enforcement officers made over 241,000 driving under the influence (DUI) arrests.
While that number alone is staggering, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) cites research that indicates that the average drunk driver drives drunk a whopping 80 times before being arrested. While these statistics only include those drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater, California’s legal limit for those over 21 years old. A BAC in the range of 0.04 to 0.06 percent can still lead to cognitive impairment. The bottom line is that drunk and impaired driving are significant problems on our roads and can have devastating consequences for other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
A person with a BAC of 0.08 percent (generally achieved by the consumption of approximately four alcoholic drinks in one hour) experiences various symptoms that can have detrimental effects on his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle. These include poor muscle coordination affecting balance, vision, speech, and reaction time; difficulty detecting danger; impaired self-control, judgment, and reasoning; defects in concentration; and a deficient ability to control speed. Such effects often lead to reckless driving—speeding, crossing the center line, sweriving out of lanes, ignoring traffic signals, and disregarding potential hazards on the road.
Depending on the facts of your case, you may be eligible to recover some or all of the costs discussed below.
- Past and future medical costs. Whether your injuries are minor or severe, you were probably taken to an emergency room or some other treatment facility after your accident. Medical costs include those that you incur during your initial stay as well as any you face after your release, including ongoing physical or occupational therapy, surgeries, consultations with specialists, or any medical equipment that you may need as a result of your injuries, such as a wheelchair, crutches, a prosthetic device, or a cane. A serious drunk driving accident may have even left you with medical needs that will continue for the rest of your life. If you require long-term care, whether in-home or at a rehabilitation facility, an experienced drunk driving accident attorney may be able to help you recover those costs.
- Pain and suffering. Pain and suffering damages include those for physical pain and emotional distress. Physical pain might continue for the rest of a victim’s life, inhibiting his or her ability to carry out daily functions or to engage in favorite leisure activities. Beyond physical pain a victim might experience various types of emotional pain after a severe accident. The injured individual might be afraid to drive, distrust others, have nightmares or post-traumatic stress disorder, frustration, anxiety, depression or overwhelming grief. A victim may also suffer from trauma associated with severe scarring and disfigurement.
- Loss of consortium. These damages are damages that relate specifically to the losses suffered by the spouse of a victim. A spouse might experience the loss of a physical or sexual relationship with the victim, the victim may be unable to participate in and enjoy the activities the two used to engage in, and the household could be deprived of benefits the victim’s spouse previously provided, such as childcare, home maintenance, driving, or others.
- Lost wages. Your accident may have prevented you from working for a period of time immediately following your accident or it may have deprived you of the ability to continue working in the field in which you worked before your accident. It might even prohibit you from working at all for the rest of your life. If you find yourself in any of these situations you may be entitled to recovery for those lost wages. Lost future wages are usually computed by an expert who evaluates your previous earnings and likely wage increases over time compared to your current earning potential and its expected increases over time.
- Property damage. If you are an insured driver, your accident will likely involve an insurance company. Insurance companies are for-profit enterprises and their goal is to pay out as little as possible. An experienced attorney can help you fight the insurance company and ensure that you receive all of the compensation to which you are entitled.
San Jose Drunk Driving Accident FAQs
If you or a family member have been injured by a drunk driver, you may be wondering what to do next. Below are answers to some commonly asked questions.
What is a DUI?
DUI (driving under the influence) is the legal term for drunk driving in California. The good news is that California has some of the toughest drunk driving laws in the country. The police generally determine whether a driver is drunk by using a breathalyzer test or a blood test, though there are other methods (like a field sobriety test) as well.
The California Vehicle Code specifies the following blood alcohol content (BAC) percentage limits as unlawful:
- 0.08 for the driver of an automobile
- 0.04 for a person with a Class A or Class B license (this is typically a commercial vehicle such as a semi-truck)
- 0.01 for a driver under the age of 21
- 0.04 for a taxi or rideshare driver
BAC levels at or above any of these percentages mean that the driver is legally considered too drunk to drive.
I was injured by a drunk driver. Do I need a lawyer? Won’t the police handle things for me?
The police should come to any accident caused by a drunk driver. Once they work with other first responders to make sure that all injured persons are safe and transported for medical care, they will likely test the suspected drunk driver’s BAC and depending on the result, charge him or her with DUI.
In most cases, a first-time DUI is a misdemeanor criminal offense. Penalties for the driver may include loss of license, payment of fines, probation, and even jail time (penalties can be more severe if serious injury or a fatality is involved). The purpose of anti-DUI laws is to deter drunk driving and to punish those who engage in such behavior.
However, it is not the role of the police and the criminal courts to help a victim be reimbursed for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other monetary damages. This is the work of a personal injury attorney. They will protect your rights and ensure that you get fully compensated through the civil court system, which is separate from any criminal DUI case.
Can a drunk driver be convicted of DUI if their BAC is below the legal limit?
Yes. A police officer can determine that a driver is under the influence, even if their BAC is below 0.08. The police officer may make this determination based upon his or her observation of reckless driving behavior and a field sobriety test. Even if the driver who caused your accident had a BAC of less than 0.08, he or she can still be charged with DUI and their intoxication can still be raised in your civil suit.
What if the case against the drunk driver that hit me was dropped or dismissed?
The court may dismiss or drop a DUI criminal case for many reasons—procedural issues with the police investigation, issues with the testing methods, or constitutional issues. Just because the charges against the driver who caused the accident were dropped or dismissed does not mean you cannot present evidence of drunk driving in a civil case.
Who can file a claim against a drunk driver?
Typically, claims are made by the operator (and passengers) of the vehicle that was hit by the drunk driver. The law also protects others who may have been injured by the drunk driver.
- A passenger in the drunk driver’s car
- The family of the person killed in the accident (in a wrongful death claim)
- The spouse or partner of the person injured (loss of consortium)
- A bystander, if the person injured was their close relative
If you or someone you know fits into one of these categories, reach out to Golden State Lawyers’s San Jose drunk driving accident lawyers to determine your rights.
Who will pay for my injuries and losses?
Hopefully, the drunk driver who caused your accident was insured, since auto liability insurance is required by law in California. It will be the driver’s insurance company that should compensate you for your injuries. There may be other parties that could be financially liable for injuries, as well. For example, if the driver was using another person’s vehicle at the time of the incident the vehicle owner may be responsible. Also, if the drunk driver became intoxicated while participating in an employer-sponsored event, the employer could be liable. Your attorney can tell you if this type of liability may apply to your case.
Do insurance companies view drunk driving-related accidents differently?
Yes and no. The insurance company will approach your claim like any other, in that they may attempt to argue that their insured driver was not entirely at fault. They will also certainly try to pick apart your medical damages and lost income, and will attempt to minimize (or avoid altogether) your pain and suffering damages. But there is an important difference in a drunk driving case if your attorney files a lawsuit: the jury.
If your case does not settle, it could be presented to a jury. Insurance companies always worry about a jury hearing the truth about what happened and know they cannot hide the evidence from the jury. A jury is likely to value the case properly and insurance companies know this. With the right attorney applying pressure on the insurance company, this may lead to a quicker and larger settlement than if you try to handle the case yourself.
If you or someone you love was injured by a drunk driver, reach out to the experienced San Jose drunk driving accident attorneys at Golden State Lawyers, APC, immediately. There are strict time limits for filing your lawsuit against a drunk driver, so you do not want to wait too long or waive your right to recovery.
The San Jose drunk driving accident attorneys at Golden State Lawyers know the law—and we know how to use it to build a case that will make the insurance company compensate you for your injuries and losses to the fullest extent.
Call Our Car Accident Attorneys if a Drunk Driver Injures You
To ensure the greatest possible recovery for your drunk driving accident injuries, you should carefully document all of the costs you incur to treat, diagnose, and recover from your injuries. Specific costs to consider are those related to your initial hospital stay including doctors’ fees and the cost of medical supplies, post-discharge costs related to ongoing care from specialists and those related to occupational or physical therapy, mental health treatment, and rehabilitative care.
You should also document any lost wages during the time you are unable to work. This is especially important if you are paid on an hourly basis, and your employer does not offer short- or long-term disability. Also, keep proof of any costs related to the repair of your vehicle, particularly if the other party is uninsured and your insurance company refuses to reimburse you for the entire amount of your damages or does not give you fair replacement value if your vehicle was totaled.
If you lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident, as that person’s survivor, you may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the drunk driver and recover damages.
A drunk driving accident is scary and can overwhelm anyone. That’s why you need an experienced San Jose car accident attorney on your side who will fight to make sure you receive every dollar you deserve to compensate you for your injuries.
The attorneys at Golden State Lawyers have more than 40 years of combined experience fighting for clients in your situation. California law generally requires that you file your lawsuit within two years of your accident, so don’t delay. Contact us today or dial (408) 279-4222 for a free case evaluation by one of our experienced and compassionate attorneys. We will fight for your legal rights while you focus on recovering and reclaiming your life after a drunk driving accident.