I Was Hit By a Drunk Driver in California: What Next?

i was hit by a drunk driver in california

Being involved in an accident is a scary and frustrating experience. It can be worse when the other driver was intoxicated at the time of the accident.

You might be wondering how to proceed and what your options are for financial compensation. Many of our prospective clients start off the first meeting by saying, I was hit by a drunk driver in California. What do I do now?

Average Settlement for a Drunk Driving Accident in California

Understandably, most people want to know what the compensation is when they are hit by a drunk driver. Settlements vary, which makes it impossible to come up with a total average amount.

Every accident is unique. Even two accidents with similar injuries and circumstances could resolve for different amounts. It would be best not to rely on potential averages or online settlement calculators to determine your case value. Instead, you need to meet with an experienced California car accident lawyer who can help.

At Saeedian Law Group, our legal team has over a decade of experience helping injured victims recover compensation after being hit by a drunk driver. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation. Let us review your case and help you determine a possible settlement range.

Civil vs. Criminal DUI Cases

There’s typically a lot of confusion around drunk driving accidents and criminal charges. The drunk driver will likely face criminal charges, but that does not preclude you from filing a civil lawsuit.

These are two different legal causes of action with entirely different court procedures and varying burdens of proof. There is no requirement that the criminal court convicts the defendant of a DUI in criminal court for you to bring a civil case.

Someone facing criminal charges for a DUI could lose their license, serve time in jail, pay a fine, or even pay restitution back to you. However, none of this reimburses you for your pain and suffering or other significant losses. That is why you bring a civil case against the drunk driver.

Proving Liability in an Accident Involving a Drunk Driver

Before collecting any compensation for your injuries in an accident with a drunk driver, you need to prove negligence. Fortunately, California has something called negligence per see.

This law essentially means someone can be deemed negligent if they violate a particular law, such as:

  • Driving under the influence of alcohol (California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a));
  • Refusing to take a DUI chemical test (California Vehicle Code Section 23612(a)); or
  • Driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that exceeds California’s legal limit.

The legal limits for BAC in California can vary depending on the circumstances. The main limits are: 

  • Adult driving a non-commercial vehicle, 0.08%;
  • Driver under 21 DUI “per se,” 0.05%;
  • Driver operating a commercial vehicle, 0.04%; and
  • Rideshare drivers such as a taxi, Uber, or Lyft driver, 0.04%.

If you sustained injuries in an accident with a drunk driver, you could be eligible to collect compensation for your damages. Under negligence per se, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant, who must show they did not violate the statute in question or that the violation (driving drunk) was not the cause of your injuries.

California also has a “zero tolerance” law for underage drivers. Breaking this law is not technically a DUI, but it is a legal violation to be behind the wheel of a vehicle with 0.01% BAC.

Testing positive for any amount of alcohol in an underage driver’s system is a violation. If a driver violates the zero-tolerance underage policy, it’s an automatic revocation or suspension of their driver’s license by the DMV.

While adults typically face only one charge for a DUI violation, minors can be charged with more than one offense. For example, someone who was impaired and had a BAC of 0.06% could lose their license under the zero-tolerance law and face criminal charges under the 21 DUI “per se” law and driving under the influence.

Potential Compensation in a Drunk Driving Accident

Your potential compensation in a personal injury accident is based on damages. You can separate your damages into two main categories—special or economic damages and general or non-economic damages. Your special damages include tangible losses that have a dollar figure attached to them. These include:

  • Medical expenses to date,
  • Future medical expenses,
  • Lost wages,
  • Future loss of earnings, and
  • Property damage.

General damages are more difficult to calculate, and they can make up a significant portion of your potential case value. Physical pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and mental anguish are examples of general damages.

There is no definitive number for your pain and suffering, which is why general damages are subjective. For example, someone with minor injuries that resolved after several months of physical therapy will likely have a lower case value than someone in the hospital for a month who needed rehabilitation to learn how to walk again after the accident.  

With drunk driving accidents, you could also be eligible to receive an award for punitive damages. Punitive damages are reserved for specific scenarios only, usually those accidents involving intentional acts or gross negligence. Driving under the influence falls under types of accidents eligible for punitive damages in most cases.

Courts don’t award punitive damages to compensate you, but more to “punish” the wrongdoer and deter them from drinking and driving in the future.  

Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

In the event someone in your vehicle passes away from their injuries, surviving family members might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Wrongful death law in California allows for surviving family members of the deceased’s estate to pursue damages when a person dies because of another party’s recklessness or negligence. Wrongful death damages include the surviving family members’ losses rather than those of the victim.  

A California survival action typically accompanies a wrongful death lawsuit. The deceased’s estate can file this on behalf of the victim for any losses they suffered before their death.

If someone lived for two days after the accident, for example, the survival action would seek compensation for the victim’s medical expenses, lost wages, etc. during that time. Pain and suffering damages are not available in a California survival action. 

Note that California does not allow the recovery of punitive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. The only option for punitive damages when a victim dies is to include it in a survival action.

Contact a California Car Accident Lawyer

If a drunk driver hit you in California, don’t attempt to handle your personal injury claim on your own. Let the skilled team at Saeedian Law Group put our expertise to work for you.

With years of experience representing injured victims in cases against drunk drivers, we can help you fight for the maximum compensation possible. Contact our office today to schedule a no-obligation consultation. Let us review your case and advise you on how best to proceed.