Accident With a Drunk Driver? Know Your Legal Options

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Motor vehicle accidents caused by a driver impaired by alcohol or drugs are a major safety problem on the roads and highways. Despite efforts by communities and governments to deter it, drunk driving kills thousands of people every year. Because impaired drivers’ reaction times are diminished, and their judgment is skewed, DUI crashes can be more severe than other automobile collisions.

Drunk driving harms the lives of everyone involved far beyond the initial results of some fatal car accidents. When people drive drunk, they are subject to legal consequences, as well as legal action from anyone who suffered injuries because of their negligence. Read on to see your options if you are the victim of a drunk driving accident.


About Drunk Driving Accidents

Fatalities caused by driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs have steadily declined in the US for decades, yet the numbers remain unacceptably high. Over 10,000 Americans are killed by drunk drivers annually, with fatalities spiking around holidays.

This is all despite widespread public understanding that driving under the influence is incredibly dangerous — a 2021 study revealed that 78 percent of Americans were very concerned about the danger of drunk driving, and 69 percent were very concerned about the danger of drug-impaired drivers.

Still, drunk driving claims thousands of lives on the road and accounts for more arrests than murder, rape, aggravated assault and burglary combined according to the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data. Additionally, 22.5 percent of drivers aged 21 or older admitted to driving while intoxicated at least once in 2021, with 12 percent reporting they do so often.

Under California’s DUI laws, it is a crime for anyone to try to drive with a blood-alcohol content, or BAC, greater than 0.08%. The laws also govern various scenarios where a driver gets caught operating a vehicle while affected by drugs, alcohol, or both. Even if your BAC is not at the legal limit, you could still get arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Police officers may ask you to submit to a field sobriety test or blow into a breathalyzer. If you fail the test or refuse, you will likely get detained—even if you are completely sober.


Common Injuries Following a Car Accident:

Car accidents can cause a variety of serious personal injuries, including death. Many of these injuries are not immediately apparent right after the collision. It may take days or weeks for your neck or back to start hurting. If not treated, many types of injuries will worsen and could cause long term damage.


  • Whiplash

A “whiplash” type injury to the neck and upper back is a form of soft tissue injury that occurs when your head and neck get jerked back and forth in a whipping motion. In whiplash, the intervertebral joints (located between vertebrae), discs, and ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots may become damaged, oftentimes causing a radiating pain on your arms and shoulders. Whiplash injuries may not surface until the day or days after the accident. A large percentage of whiplash victims never fully recover from their injuries. Many endure chronic pain afterwards and some even become permanently disabled.


  • Broken Bones

While broken bones are not typically life-threatening, they have the potential to cause significant physical pain and expense. Healing time, physical therapy and rehabilitative treatments could result in lost time at work and could also result in permanent disability or disfigurement.


  • Internal Injuries

Internal injuries do not often manifest immediately after the accident but can be some of the most serious injuries. Examples of these injuries include punctured lungs, ruptured spleen and damage to other organs such as the kidneys and liver. These injuries require prompt medical attention and emergency care. It is important to be fully examined for internal bleeding or injury after a serious accident.


  • Brain Injuries

Auto accidents are the leading cause of brain trauma. Even a relatively minor accident or low-speed impact collision can result in a blow to the head that leads to a concussion. A severe injury could impair critical functions such as speech, vision, concentration, memory and emotional control. If you have suffered a head injury in a car crash, it is crucial that you get medical attention right away.


  • Spinal Cord Damage

Any damage to the spine, no matter how minor, needs to be treated delicately. Spinal injuries are some of the most devastating injuries suffered in a car accident. When the spinal cord is severed or permanently damaged, the most common result is paralysis. Most paralysis victims will experience a loss of function or sensation below the injured portion of the spinal cord.



Legal Options for Accidents Caused by Drunk Drivers

After a collision with an impaired motorist, there are several ways you could try to obtain monetary compensation for damages. The right choice will depend on factors including your state’s rules and the extent of your losses.

Here are some of the different approaches to resolving your case accident with a drunk driver case.

  • Make a Claim With Your Own Insurer

After a third-party accident, inform the other person’s insurer that you have been involved in a crash with one of its policyholders and make sure to relay only the facts of the accident. Even if you believe the other driver to be at fault, it is not smart to say that. Instead, give the insurer the facts to show their driver is at fault and liable for your damages. You will be far more credible that way.

Although you may not have caused the accident, you should also contact your insurance company. This establishes your good-faith accident-reporting effort and can aid you if the other party’s insurer denies responsibility for the accident or their insurance was not valid at the time of the incident and you need to make a collision claim.

Sometimes car insurance companies may demand that you obtain their authorization before proceeding with vehicle repairs and injury treatments. At a minimum, ensure that the insurance company has accepted liability before going ahead with repairs and get that authorization in writing or over email.

  • Settle Your Case

If the drunk driver is to blame for the accident, settling your claim out of court could enable you to recover compensation without filing a lawsuit. If the drunk driver’s insurer accepts fault and offers you a lump sum payment, you could decide to accept and give up any future claims.

An attorney can help you to negotiate a fair settlement, so do not assume you must accept the first offer the impaired driver’s insurer makes. And remember, a settlement means giving up your right to sue so make sure the compensation fully covers all losses before accepting.

  • File a Lawsuit Against the Impaired Driver

If an impaired driver hit you and caused you injuries, then you can file a lawsuit against them. You can use evidence of the driver’s intoxication and any other traffic violations to establish negligence. Once you prove negligence and establish your physical, emotional, and financial injuries, you may be entitled to compensation. Remember, though, the impaired driver’s insurer will only pay compensation up to the policy limits. If you are awarded more money above-and-beyond the available insurance coverage, you may have to try to collect directly from the impaired driver. This can often be a challenge.


Seeking Damages After a California Drunk Driving Accident

If you choose to bring a personal injury lawsuit against a drunk driver, you might recover compensatory and exemplary damages under California law. Exemplary damages are meant to punish the defendant when extreme negligence caused an accident and injury. Yet, exemplary damages are not a guaranteed thing; courts reserve them for extreme cases. In most scenarios, you can expect that the compensation you might receive will be for economic and non-economic losses related to the drunk driving accident and your injuries.

Some of the most frequently awarded compensatory damages received in a settlement or verdict in favor of the plaintiff include compensation for:

  • Medical treatment
  • Future medical treatment
  • Rehabilitation
  • Assistive devices
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Loss of consortium with a spouse
  • Scarring and disfigurement


Evidence in Drunk Driving Accident Claims

Many different kinds of evidence can be used in a drunk driving collision including:

  • Proof the other driver was impaired, such as police reports from the crash scene or a record of a DUI arrest
  • Photos or videos from the crash scene
  • Witness statements
  • Medical records
  • A diary or journal documenting your pain and suffering

You will want evidence that the drunk driver was to blame for the accident, as well as proof of the extent of your resulting losses.



Should You Speak with an Attorney?

Thousands of people die in car accidents each year, which is why the damage sustained in these crashes should never be taken lightly. If you were harmed in a crash, your first step should always be to call 911 and ask for medical attention. Once you have been properly taken care of, make sure you contact an experienced personal injury attorney for help attaining justice and compensation for your injuries.

Call us now at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your options. A free consultation is just a phone call away.

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