Orange County Drunk Driving Lawyer
Each year, drunk drivers injure about 30,000 people in California. Unfortunately, some of these cases result in severe wounds that leave victims in pain, unable to participate in work and family life, and with lifelong debilitations. Statewide, drunk drivers kill over 1,000 people per year.
Most accidents, even serious ones, result from civil negligence on the part of the at-fault driver but are not criminal violations (except traffic tickets). Any driver can make a mistake, such as misjudging distance, that results in an accident. In these situations, the driver was negligent in his duty of care towards other motorists, resulting in civil liability.
Drunk drivers incur both civil- and criminal liability. As a result, other motorists may become a witness in both cases. However, the civil and criminal systems work separately, so the outcome of one case has no impact on the other.
For example, a drunk driver may slam into your vehicle from the rear because of his slowed reaction time. The police are called and arrest this driver for operating a vehicle while above the legal alcohol limit. However, the driver’s criminal defense attorney discovers that the testing was flawed, and the court dismisses the case.
While this ends the criminal proceeding, the acquittal does nothing to eliminate the driver’s civil liability. Instead, the injured party can pursue the intoxicated driver in court and win economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.
Who Is Liable in a Drunk Driving Accident?
Because civil and criminal cases proceed on different tracts, a drunk driver does not automatically have civil liability if convicted of DUI (Driving Under the Influence). Therefore, liability in civil court depends on who was at fault for the accident.
When a sober and drunk driver collide, it’s most often due to the criminal negligence of the intoxicated driver, who may have swerved out of his lane or failed to stop in time at an intersection. However, it’s possible that the sober driver made the mistake that caused the accident. In that case, the state may bring charges against the drunk driver in criminal court, but civil liability may fall on the sober driver.
On the other hand, many civil cases result in split liability under California’s pure comparative negligence rules. Under this legal theory, each party to the accident had a theoretical share of the liability based on his contribution to causing the incident. For example, a court can find the drunk driver 100% liable or assign a lower threshold if it rules that another party is partially at-fault for the accident.
Imagine another vehicle turning in front of you at an intersection and hitting you. You had the right of way, so the other driver appears at fault. In addition, the police arrived at the scene and discovered the driver was impaired. The police investigation may also reveal that you greatly exceeded the speed limit in this example. Had you been traveling at a safe speed, it’s likely the accident would have been avoided or much less severe.
The defense in this type of case will likely argue that you share a portion of the blame and should receive a smaller settlement or award. For this reason, you need aggressive legal representation to fight against unfair attempts to pin the blame on you. Often, insurance companies claim the plaintiff bears partial fault when no evidence exists to support this. They hope this negotiating ploy will convince the plaintiff to accept lower compensation.
Nordean Law’s Orange County Car Accident Attorney fights back against these hardball tactics. When a drunk driver hits you, you deserve 100% of the damages to which the law entitles you. Our legal team fights until we recover every penny for our clients.
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What Should I Do After an Accident with a Drunk Driver?
Reporting the incident to emergency services should be the top priority for all accidents, especially ones involving drunk drivers. Drunk drivers may be in an altered mental state and exhibit abysmal judgment, for example, attempting to flee the accident scene. If possible, record the license plate, note the vehicle’s make, model, and color, and observe the driver so you can later identify that person.
Video evidence is often the clearest and most convincing, so record footage of the other vehicle on your cellphone if possible. It’s always advisable to seek medical attention after an accident. This is obvious if you have visible and painful injuries. However, some injuries have latent onset symptoms, so getting checked out is always a good idea.
Seeking medical attention also establishes the link between any injuries and the accident. With this documentation, the defense cannot dispute your damages by claiming your injury was not a result of the collision.
What Are Common Injuries From Drunk Driving Accidents?
Drunk driving injuries range from a sore arm to paralysis. Common drunk driving auto accident injuries include the following:
- Broken bones
- Eye injuries
- Facial scarring
- Organ damage
- Traumatic brain injury
- Spinal cord injuries
California DUI Definition
California is a zero-tolerance state. Motorists face conviction if their ability to operate a vehicle is diminished by intoxication, regardless of BAC level.
For instance, if a police officer observes a driver swerving between lanes and the motorist’s BAC test is lower than the legal limit, the state can still proceed with charges. If the court believes the defendant was impaired, it can enter a conviction despite the low BAC test.
A BAC above the legal limit allows for a presumption of impairment. Provided the court believes the BAC test results to be accurate, it can enter a conviction regardless of whether the state presents evidence of impaired faculties.
California law sets the legal alcohol limits as follows:
- .08% or higher – 21 years old or older operating a regular passenger vehicle.
- .04% or higher – operating a commercial vehicle.
- .01% or higher – younger than 21 years old.
California DUI Laws & Penalties
California uses a progressive sentencing system for DUI offenses. First-time offenders with mild impairments receive a lower classification of conviction and lighter punishment. Repeat offenders and those with extremely high BACs (Blood Alcohol Concentration) receive harsher punishment.
DUI offenders that cause injury or death face the most serious charges, including vehicular homicide. Most first-time DUIs count as misdemeanors. Penalties include the following:
- Six-month license suspension or restriction
- Three years probation
- Fines and assessments of up to $2,000
- Mandatory attendance of a first-offender alcohol program requiring an enrollment fee
A second DUI conviction may result in the following:
- Incarceration (minimum 96 hours)
- Two-year license suspension
- Fines and assessments of up to $2,000
- Long-term probation
Subsequent DUI offenses may result in the following penalties:
- Incarceration (120-day minimum)
- Fines between $1000 and $1800
- Assessments of up to $2,000
- License suspension for three years or more
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What Is the Average Settlement for a Drunk Driving Accident?
The average settlement in California for a drunk driving accident ranges between $80,000 and $100,000. Many cases settle far below this level when no serious injuries were involved. However, courts award plaintiffs into the seven- or eight figures when the accident causes life-altering injuries or wrongful death.
What Types of Damages and Compensation Are Victims Entitled to After a Drunk Driving Accident?
California law entitles auto accident victims to economical and non-economic damages. Economic damages include the financial losses endured by the plaintiff, while non-economic damages compensate the victim for the non-financial impacts of the injury.
Economic damages include the following:
- Ambulance charges
- ER visits
- Intensive care
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Lost wages
- Lost salary
- Lost business income
- Lost benefits
Non-economic damages include the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
Courts award punitive damages to deter others from engaging in similar conduct. However, most car accident cases are ineligible for punitive damages because they involve mistakes on the part of the defense versus intentional and bad actions.
Since DUI cases involve an intentional legal violation that any reasonable person knows puts lives in danger, courts may award punitive damages. For example, the drunk driver knew what he was doing was wrong and dangerous and did it anyway. Punitive damages help deter others from getting behind the wheel drunk.
Contact Nordean’s Law, Top Rated Orange County DUI Lawyer
Nordean Law’s personal injury team deals with all types of vehicle accidents. Drunk drivers present a menace to responsible drivers and should face full accountability under the law. Our legal team gathers evidence to prove the fault lies with the drunk defendant, and our client deserves their full damages.
Don’t let a drunk driver get away with wrecking your life. Call Nordean Law to start the process of holding them accountable.