Orange County Drunk Driving Accident Lawyers

Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of car accidents in California. According to a study, at least 949 people died in 2019 due to drunk driving. To put things into perspective, drunk driving deaths account for 26.3% of fatalities on California roads. If you have lost a loved one or been injured due to a drunk driving accident, you may be eligible for compensation.

Here is everything you need to know.

What is the average settlement for being hit by a drunk driver in California? set of car keys next to three alcohol beverages in California

The average settlement for being hit by a drunk driver in California is $100,000. However, the amount you may be entitled to as compensation for your injuries usually depends on the severity of the accident.

For instance, if you were lucky to get away with minor cuts and bruises, the compensation will not be the same as someone who lost a leg in the same accident. Usually, the more injured you are, the higher the compensation you may be entitled to.

Sometimes, getting severely injured in a car accident may not necessarily lead to higher compensation. This is because California follows the pure comparative negligence doctrine. This legal doctrine decides the amount of compensation you may be entitled to based on your contribution to the accident.

Here's a hypothetical example of such a situation:

Peter runs a red light and gets hit by Paul, who is drunk at the time. Peter suffers serious injuries and requires multiple surgeries. However, when his attorney files a personal injury claim with Paul's insurer, the insurance provider disputes the claim arguing that even though Paul hit Peter, the latter contributed to the accident by running a red light.

After failing to reach an agreement, the matter goes to court. The judge is then briefed about each party's contribution to the accident. In his final ruling, the judge concludes that Paul was 70% responsible for the accident and Peter was 30% responsible.

Therefore, Peter can only recover 70 percent of the agreed compensation. Despite needing multiple surgeries, Peter's compensation is determined by his contribution to the accident.

Is the Bar Responsible for My Car Wreck in California?

Years ago, bars in California were held responsible for serving alcohol to individuals who caused car accidents due to drunk driving. This legal doctrine was famously known as dram shop laws (because alcohol used to be measured in units called 'dram' back then). But things have now changed; California revised these laws and introduced a new concept that freed bars and other establishments from liability following a car accident caused by a drunk driver.

The argument was that drinking and driving was the proximate cause of such accidents, not selling alcohol to the consumer. The new law argued that although such establishments sold alcohol, it was the driver's responsibility not to drink and drive. This law claimed that bars and other similar establishments had no responsibility for their patron's decisions after leaving the bar.

But, like many other laws in California, there are some exceptions.

Bars can be held responsible if they sell alcohol to minors. The legal age to drink alcohol in California is 21. Therefore, the bar could be sued if an 18-year-old drunk driver hits and injures another driver or pedestrian.

Additionally, California introduced the social host rule. Per this rule, individuals responsible for serving alcohol to underage persons would also be held responsible for a drunk driving accident caused by the minor. For example, suppose a parent, guardian, or other adult serves alcohol to an individual who they know or should have known is underage. The minor causes a car accident while drunk. In that case, the adult could be held responsible.

What's Considered Driving Under the Influence in California?

Driving Under the Influence, popularly known as DUI, is a term that describes a wide range of scenarios. In California, you may be charged with DUI if found to be driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher.

If you are a commercial vehicle driver, you may be charged with DUI if found to be driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.04% or higher. Lastly, you may be charged with DUI if you are under 21 and have a blood alcohol content of 0.01%.

It is also important to note that you may still be arrested for DUI even if your blood alcohol content is below the legal limit. However, in that case, the prosecutor will have a heavier burden of proof. In other words, they will need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were under the influence of alcohol when you got arrested.

Another thing you need to know is that it is illegal to drink any amount of alcohol if you are under 21 in California. Similarly, you cannot drink any amount of alcohol if you are on DUI probation.

You can be charged with DUI if found driving under the influence of drugs. However, this only refers to drugs that cause impairment. Examples of such drugs include cocaine and heroin.

Who's At Fault After a Drunk Driving Wreck in California?

There are three important things you need to know about how California determines fault after a car accident. Here's an overview:

  • California follows the at-fault doctrine when determining the party responsible for an auto wreck. In an at-fault state, the injured party can sue the individual responsible for the accident, their insurer, or both. In this system, the injury victim bears the burden of proof, meaning they will need to prove to the jury that the other party is responsible for their injuries.
  • To better understand how an at-fault system works, let's briefly discuss a no-fault system. Some states, such as Florida, follow the no-fault legal doctrine. This rule requires the injured party to file a claim with their insurer in the event of an accident. Therefore, it won't matter even if the injured party is responsible for the damages - they must file a claim with their insurer first. However, this doesn't mean that the injured driver in a no-fault system cannot file a claim with the other driver's insurer. In fact, they may be able to file a claim with the other driver's insurer but only to recover certain types of damages or if their current policy does not provide enough coverage for the injuries.
  • Another important thing you should know about determining fault in California is that the state follows the pure comparative negligence rule. As mentioned earlier, this doctrine states that both parties involved in the accident can share fault for the accident. As a result, their percentage of fault determines what they might be able to recover as compensation. Under this system, any party can recover compensation even if they were partly at fault for the accident.

There are three main types of comparative negligence:

Contributory negligence: The plaintiff cannot recover damages if they were partly at fault for the accident. In other words, they can't recover anything even if they were 1% at fault for the accident.

Modified comparative negligence: The plaintiff may be able to recover damages even if they were partly at fault for the accident. However, they might not be able to recover damages if they were more than 50% responsible for the accident.

Pure comparative negligence: Used in California, this doctrine allows the plaintiff to recover damages even if they were 99% at fault for the accident. In other words, they can still recover the remaining 1%.

When determining fault, investigators will also examine whether you broke the law in any way when the accident occurred. If you broke the law, then you will be presumptively at fault for the accident.

Common Injuries That Occur in Drunk Driving Accidents

Drunk driving accidents often lead to serious injuries, that is, if the victims are lucky to survive. This is because intoxicated drivers usually cannot make the right decisions while driving.

These kinds of injuries usually fall under two categories:

External injuries

Examples of external injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Limb injuries
  • Burns
  • Head damage
  • Bruises
  • Cuts

Internal injuries

Some of the most common internal injuries resulting from such car accidents include:

The scope of injury usually varies from one accident to another. Similarly, some injuries do not show right away. For this reason, it is always advisable to seek immediate medical attention as soon as possible. This applies even if you do not show any signs of pain or discomfort. There's always a possibility that your body is still high on adrenaline, preventing you from experiencing pain and discomfort for a brief period.

Additionally, internal injuries often take long before they begin showing signs. In fact, when these signs begin to show, it is usually because the injury has developed to a more severe level. Therefore, seeking immediate medical attention allows your doctor to examine whether you have suffered any internal injuries. If so, the doctor will recommend the most appropriate treatment.

What If The Person is Uninsured?

It is scary to be involved in a car accident. It is even scarier to find out that the at-fault driver is uninsured. The good news is that there is always a way out if you ever find yourself in such a situation. Here are some quick tips to guide you:

If you have been injured by an uninsured driver, you should proceed with the claims process just as you would with an insured driver.

Things to do:

  • Call 911 and request medical assistance
  • Inform the police about the accident
  • Take pictures of the accident scene, including any property damage, significant road signs, etc
  • Gather the contact information of any witnesses
  • Obtain a copy of the police report
  • Inform your own insurance company about the accident
  • Contact an experienced car accident attorney

Things not to do:

  • Do not admit fault for the accident
  • Do not accept settlement from your insurer
  • Do not sign any documents without an attorney's advise
  • Do not discuss the accident on social media
  • If you got injured and sought treatment, do not miss any medical appointment regarding the injury, even if you feel okay

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How a Costa Mesa Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

There are so many ways an experienced car accident attorney can help even if you have been injured by an uninsured motorist. Let's take a look.

Evaluating the case

Your attorney will evaluate your case to determine whether it is valid. If they find out that you have a valid case, they will proceed to the next step.

Investigating the accident

The attorney will then investigate the accident to get all the necessary details. This stage involves examining evidence to determine liability. Remember when we mentioned that you should take pictures of the accident scene? Those pictures will come in handy at this stage of the investigation. Your attorney will also interview witnesses to get their version of the story and seek expert opinion. 

Assessing damages

In order to file a claim, your attorney will want to know the extent of your injuries. This includes both internal and external injuries. In addition to the physical injuries, the car accident attorney will also consider damages such as economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages include medical expenses, cost of transportation to your doctor's appointment, caregiver costs, medical equipment, etc. On the other hand, non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and so on.

Determining Where to File the Claim

The next thing is to identify the party responsible for compensating you for your injuries and damages. There are many different ways you may be able to recover compensation even if you were injured by an insured motorist. Examples of these options include:

  • Filing an uninsured motorist claim if you have such coverage
  • Suing the at-fault driver personally if you obtained their information
  • Filing a claim with your health insurer
  • Obtaining compensation from MedPay 
  • Filing a physical damage claim if covered by your collision insurance policy

Injured By a Drunk Driver? Contact Case Barnett Law

If you or your loved one has been injured by a drunk driver in California, our experienced car accident attorneys at Case Barnett Law might be able to help you seek the compensation you need and deserve. This applies even if the at-fault driver was uninsured. Located in Costa Mesa, Orange County, our attorneys serve clients from all over the state.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Case C. Barnett
Costa Mesa Personal Injury Attorney practicing in child injury law, car accident injuries and elder abuse law