More than one person dies every hour due to drunk driving in the United States.
And every 2 minutes, someone is injured in a DUI collision, per Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Money You Can Recover If You're Hit by a Drunk Driver in California
If you get injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver in California, how much money can you get?
Victims of drunk driving accidents are entitled to all of the same types of damages as people injured in non-DUI collisions, plus there are two additional ways victims can potentially get compensated if they're hit by a drunk driver.
Like people injured in non-DUI collisions, people injured in collisions caused by drunk drivers are entitled to monetary compensation for:
(1) Property damage (including damage to their car and personal belongings like their cell phone damaged in the collision);
(2) Medical bills brought about by the collision;
(3) Income lost due to being injured and unable to work;
(4) Pain resulting from the crash; and
(5) Suffering caused by being unable to participate in your regular activities (like jogging, caring for your children, or gardening).
In addition to damages directly caused by the crash, victims of DUI collisions may also be entitled to money called punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish a person who does something seriously wrong. An insurance policy will not pay punitive damages, so the drunk driver him or herself would be required to pay them.
Under California law, punitive damages are available when a "defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice." (California Civil Code section 3294(a)).
Dating back to the late 1970s, courts in California have found that "the act of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated may constitute an act of 'malice' under section 3294 if performed under circumstances which disclose a conscious disregard of the probable dangerous consequences." (Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal.3d 890, 892).
Courts have interpreted this to mean that not every person who drives drunk and causes a collision is liable for punitive damages. While many may disagree, California courts have ruled that "The risk of injury to others from ordinary driving while intoxicated is certainly foreseeable, but it is not necessarily probable." (Dawes v. Superior Court (1980) 111 Cal.App.3d 82, 89). Lawyers hired by insurance companies to defend drunk drivers have latched on to this to try to get requests for punitive damages struck out of lawsuits filed against drunk drivers.
As a result, it is important to show that the drunk driver's conduct was so egregious and dangerous that it was probable it would cause injury.
For example, I have successfully kept a punitive damages claim in a case where a drunk driver in Los Angeles drove on the wrong side of the road and struck multiple parked cars. The Court agreed with my argument that driving on the wrong side of the street while intoxicated makes injury to others probable.
There are specific laws that need to be navigated to obtain punitive damages in a DUI collision. A California personal injury attorney experienced in handling drunk driving accidents can help you obtain maximum compensation if you're hit by a drunk driver. If you were involved in an accident with a drunk driver, please contact Mr. Patzkowski for a free consultation.
A second route to recovery available to people injured by a drunk driver in California is victim's restitution.
If the drunk driver is criminally prosecuted as a result of causing an injury collision, the criminal court may order the drunk driver to pay restitution to the victim(s) as part of their criminal sentence.
California Penal Code section 1202.4 states:
"It is the intent of the Legislature that a victim of crime who incurs any economic loss as a result of the commission of a crime shall receive restitution directly from any defendant convicted of that crime."
What a drunk driver may be ordered to pay as victim's restitution is more limited than what they can be required to pay in a civil personal injury lawsuit. This is because the drunk driver can only be ordered to pay restitution for "economic" damages, which includes things like medical bills, property damage, and lost wages. A victim's restitution order cannot include non-economic damages (pain and suffering) or punitive damages.
Nonetheless, victim's restitution is another tool that can help hold a drunk driver fully accountable for the damage they have caused. An experienced personal injury attorney will use these methods together to help their client get as much money as possible from the drunk driver who caused their injuries.
Costa Mesa car accident lawyer Blaise Patzkowski is an advocate for the rights of people injured in car accidents, bike accidents, and pedestrian accidents in Orange County, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and across California. He has successfully advocated for the imposition of punitive damages against drunk drivers who cause car crashes. If you or your family member was hurt in a car, bicycle, or pedestrian accident, please contact Mr. Patzkowski.
Mr. Patzkowski graduated from UC Berkeley with High Honors and obtained his law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, California. He is a native of La Mirada, California in Los Angeles County.
Disclaimer: The information here is general information that should not be taken as legal advice. It cannot be guaranteed to be accurate, current or complete. No attorney-client relationship is established between you and our law firm by reading this article. This article should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a lawyer about the specific facts of your case.