Drunk Driving Accidents in California

December 1, 2022 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff | Tips & Information

Drunk Driving Accidents in California

Driving under the influence leads to some of the most frustrating and preventable accidents that occur throughout the U.S. Even with the criminal consequences of drunk driving, some residents still engage in this reckless behavior. This leads to severe injuries and multiple lives being affected—or ruined altogether.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is responsible for tracking all vehicle accidents that occur within state borders. They release that information in organized spreadsheets that provide valuable insight into the causes and factors which influence driver crash statistics. 

Recent data from the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) shows that there were 18,880 injuries and 1,087 fatalities with alcohol involved in California in 2019. Numbers were relatively similar for the five years prior. These are accidents that were caused directly by the consumption of alcohol or were believed to be heavily influenced by the consumption of alcohol. 

If you find yourself involved in one of these accidents, you should contact a Bakersfield car accident lawyer as soon as possible to pursue damages from the liable party. There is no tolerance for driving drunk in California, and the civil damages you recover should reflect that. 

Why Are Drunk Driving Accidents Dangerous?

Alcohol and other illegal substances affect a person’s judgment and reaction time. When driving, you must be able to respond to changing traffic conditions, unexpected obstacles, and other drivers at a moment’s notice. Drunk drivers may react too late, or overcompensate for mistakes, thus causing a more dangerous situation. 

Intoxicated drivers also experience similar symptoms to people who drive tired and/or distracted. Getting behind the wheel after drinking is a recipe for disaster. Impairments from alcohol can lead to the driver speeding and making risky decisions. This makes the potential accidents more dangerous because of the additional force from a car moving at higher speeds. 

Drunk driving accidents are some of the most dangerous accidents because the driver cannot mitigate damage before the crash. Drunk drivers will not swerve or brake as quickly and effectively as an alert driver might. On top of that, they are unpredictable from the perspective of the victim. Drunk drivers often ignore road rules at times when other drivers expect them to comply. This unspoken miscommunication can lead to serious accidents. 

DUI Laws in California

Driving under the influence (DUI) accidents are characterized by the presence of an unsafe amount of illegal substances in the body of the at-fault driver. The California DUI limit is 0.08% BAC. This means that if a driver has over a 0.08% blood-alcohol content, they can be charged with a DUI. 

Consequences of a DUI

A DUI is a serious criminal offense in California and will lead to steep fines and/or jail time. The intoxicated driver will likely lose their license and have to take a class before they can reclaim it. The punishments for repeat offenders only get more severe. 

On top of these consequences, there are also civil DUI penalties in California that aim to compensate the victim of a drunk driving accident. If someone is injured in a crash with a drunk driver, that person can pursue a car accident claim to recover monetary damages. Normally, the claimant must prove that the other driver was at fault for their injuries. In a drunk driving accident, it is typically assumed that the drunk driver is at fault, and most of the legal process is about negotiating the value of the awarded settlement. 

Fault in a Drunk Driving Lawsuit

Investigations for drunk driving accidents are conducted differently than regular car accidents. Information from a police report will be especially valuable in determining fault. If the responsible driver was also issued a DUI by the responding officer, that information can be used to assign blame. 

DUI accidents are also unique because civil cases often happen concurrently with criminal cases. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you navigate the process of recovering damages after a drunk-driving crash.

Shared Fault in California Drunk Driving Accidents

When calculating the value of a drunk driver settlement, comparative negligence must also be considered. This refers to the portion of blame the plaintiff holds for their own injuries. While a drunk driver may be the primary at-fault party, the other driver may have been negligent in a way that contributed to their overall injuries.

For example, imagine a drunk driver who drifted over the centerline in a two way-street getting into a head-on collision. The drunk driver would be the primary cause of the accident and responsible for paying the victim’s medical expenses. However, if the victim was speeding and not wearing a seatbelt, they may have sustained more severe injuries as a result of their own negligence. Even though the drunk driver caused the accident, the overall settlement value may be reduced by a percentage depending on how much the plaintiff’s own behaviors contributed to the resulting damages. 

Liable Parties

Even though it can be easier to prove the drunk driver was at fault for your accident, you should still be able to explain how they were at fault and how much of the blame they hold. Most often, the drunk driver is the primary defendant of a DUI accident claim. It’s careless and illegal to drive while intoxicated, so drivers who engage in that behavior will usually be held responsible for their actions. 

Sometimes the establishment that served the drunk driver can also be held accountable for the resulting damages. A California law protects social hosts and other businesses from being accountable for drunk driving accidents. But, if an establishment serves a visibly drunk minor, that establishment could be liable for the damages caused. 

Hit by a Drunk Driver: No Injuries

Fortunately, some accidents end with no injuries to either party. But if you are hit by a drunk driver and don’t get hurt, you may still be able to pursue benefits for damage to your vehicle. 

It is less likely that you will recover significant compensation because you do not have medical expenses, but that does not mean you don’t deserve payment for your car repairs. Additionally, the drunk driver can still be charged with a DUI even though they did not injure anyone. 

Drunk Driving Accident Compensation

The benefits you recover after a drunk driving accident will mainly depend on the severity of your injuries and your insurance. Settlements can range from a few thousand to a few million dollars and have everything to do with the specific details of a case. The “average settlement” for drunk driving accidents in California is a pointless value. The best way to determine how much you could recover is to contact an experienced Bakersfield car accident lawyer. 

Chain | Cohn | Clark has been representing California residents for decades, and we have seen a lot of cases settle. Reach out for a free case evaluation and we can discuss whether or not a car accident claim would be worthwhile for your drunk driver accident injuries. 

Damages in a Drunk Driving Lawsuit

For the most part, drunk driving accident lawsuits work the same as regular car accident lawsuits. The plaintiff files a claim and an investigation is conducted to determine who was at fault and how much they owe. 

Negotiations will take place between the legal team of the plaintiff and the insurance company of the liable party to calculate the value of available compensatory damages. The two parties will attempt to reach a settlement and proceed to court if they cannot agree. 

The two factors that come into play more often in drunk driving accidents are punitive damages and wrongful death damages. 

Punitive damages may be awarded to the plaintiff as a punishment to the defendant. Since driving drunk is also a crime, it’s viewed as more negligent than other car accident causes. A lawyer may advise that you pursue punitive damages in addition to your compensatory damages. 

Wrongful death damages may be sought when the victim of an alcohol-related accident dies. If the victim passes away from the crash or injuries related to the crash, there are additional expenses the deceased’s surviving loved ones can recover. Burial costs, loss of companionship, and more are available in wrongful death cases. 

Chain | Cohn | Clark and Drunk Driving Accidents

Our Bakersfield personal injury and car accident law firm is dedicated to representing you in your time of need. If you or a loved one has been hit by a drunk driver, do not hesitate to contact our firm

Driving under the influence in California is unacceptable, and those who do should be held accountable for civil damages as well as legal consequences.