Recovering Personal Damages From a DUI Accident
When a person decides to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol and/or drugs, there is of course a significant risk of an auto accident. The resulting crash could be a single-car accident only involving the impaired driver and his or her passengers. Or it may also involve others on the roadway such as a pedestrian, bicyclist or occupants of other vehicles. When a driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs, his or her brain is not able to function normally. Vision and depth perception become distorted. Coordination is slowed and judgment is affected.
A driver commits the crime of driving while impaired (DWI) whenever his or her ability to safely operate a vehicle is hampered by alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medications or over-the-counter drugs. It is important to note that the victims of driving under the influence (DUI) crashes are not "accidentally" hurt. They are victims of a crime that is the outcome of choices made by the driver to use alcohol or drugs and to operate a vehicle while under the influence of these substances. This is definitely a dangerous choice – and one that has the potential to turn lethal. Impaired driving is a senseless and preventable crime.
When you have been injured by an impaired driver, you are entitled to receive damages and compensation for your losses such as medical expenses, lost income, benefits, and pain and suffering. An experienced California DUI victim lawyer will be able to help those who were injured or families that have lost loved ones fully understand their legal rights and the options that are available to them.
If you or a loved one is a victim of a DUI crash, you may be affected both physically and emotionally. For injured victims and family members of those who have been injured or killed in such a crash, the most difficult step is to process what occurred. If a loved one has died a sudden, traumatic death in a DUI crash, it is common for survivors to feel tremendous pain, unlike any other loss they have experienced. Coming to terms with such profound grief takes time.
What complicates this grief further is the feeling of unfairness that stems from your loss and having to subsequently deal with the criminal justice system. You may feel anger and frustration if the case is treated as an accident by the defendant rather than a crime that resulted from his or her choice to drive while impaired.
The bottom line is everyone processes grief in different ways. You may experience sharp swings in emotion. You may feel a sense of guilt for being unable to protect your loved one. You may feel depressed or hopeless. This emotional suffering tends to affect individuals physically as well. For example, your eating habits may change. You may have difficult sleeping.
If you were seriously injured in a crash, you may have nightmares about the incident or have difficulty driving or riding in an automobile. You may lose interest in socializing or other activities you enjoyed before the accident. If you have lingering physical injuries or suffered scarring or disfigurement as a result of those injuries, those can serve as painful reminders of your emotional pain. You may not be able to return to your job because of being unable to drive or simply because you are not in the right frame of mind just yet.
These types of physical and emotional tolls of a DUI crash may lead to significant monetary damages ranging from medical expenses to psychological counseling costs and loss of income and benefits. It is important for the victim to recover these damages, salvage his or her financial position and secure their family's future.
What Damages Can You Seek?
The costs of medical care, counseling, lost wages and funerals can be overwhelming. All states have victim compensation programs in place, which reimburse victims' families for some out-of-pocket expenses such as funeral and burial, counseling, medical expenses and lost wages. Many states provide emergency funds that are available within weeks of the crash. However, in order to be eligible for such compensation, the crime must be reported to the police and the victim and his or her family must cooperate with the criminal justice system.
There are several types of damages you may be able to claim in a personal injury lawsuit if you have suffered injuries in a DUI crash. While claims for medical expenses get most attention, there are also many other economic and non-economic damages that could be claimed in these cases including lost wages or diminished employment opportunities, pain and suffering and loss of consortium.
Here are some of the types of damages you may be able to seek in connection with a drunk driving crash.
Medical Expenses from a DUI Injury
If you have been involved in a DUI crash, your injuries may range from cuts and bruises to broken bones or even paralysis, traumatic brain injury or other conditions that might result in permanent disability. There are also other injuries whose symptoms may not be apparent at first, but might require medical care and attention in the future. This is why is it is crucial to undergo a thorough medical examination soon after a car accident, especially if you are feeling pain or have been injured. Medical expenses stemming from a DUI collision that could be compensable include but are not limited to:
- Emergency transportation costs such as transport by ambulance or helicopter
- Hospitalization costs
- Cost of surgery or other types of procedures
- Cost of physical therapy or other types of rehabilitation
- Cosmetic surgery costs if the accident has resulted in scarring or disfigurement
- Cost of prescription drugs and other medications
- Expenses relating to medical equipment
- Accessories such as crutches or heating pads
- In-home services, even if they are non-medical in nature.
Your personal injury attorney can help you calculate any future costs of additional medical treatment or therapy you may require depending on how your recovery progresses. Doctors, health professionals and other experts can also help with these types of cost estimates.
When you are injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you not only face expenses stemming from medical treatment care and paying for household services, but you are also looking at lost income because you are unable to work.
Even when you suffer what are normally described as "moderate injuries," you may not be able to return to work for several weeks or months.
For example, if you have suffered broken bones, you may need extensive rehabilitation before you can carry out basic tasks, being able to leave the house, drive, lift objects or perform the tasks your job requires you to do. This means that you may not get a paycheck for a while and you may have to depend on disability income. You may have to take significant cuts in your pay at a time when you need the money the most to deal with mounting expenses.
Some victims are so seriously injured that they may lose their jobs or may not be able to return to their previous job. That means they may have to take a big pay cut doing something else. In some cases, injured victims are rendered permanently disabled and therefore, unable to earn a livelihood. In such cases, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you calculate lost future income and benefits for which you can seek compensation as well.
Pain and Suffering
This is usually categorized under "non-economic" damages because you cannot technically quantify the amount of physical pain and mental anguish you suffered in the aftermath of a crash. Pain and suffering is legally defined as physical and emotional distress. You can seek damages for pain and suffering in a DUI lawsuit.
These damages are calculated based on the nature and extent of your injuries, the seriousness of the pain that was suffered and the prognosis for future pain associated with the injury. Pain and suffering, in such cases, also include the psychological and emotional repercussions of the incident including stress and anxiety. Many suffer from chronic depression because they are unable to go back to the lives they led prior to the crash. Others suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD because they may fear getting in a car as it triggers flashbacks of the traumatic incident.
Once again, an experienced California DUI victim lawyer will be able to assess your individual situation and help you determine how much compensation you can seek for pain and suffering. It is always a good idea to maintain a journal in the days, weeks and months following an accident describing the physical pain and emotional stress you are feeling. This will provide your attorney with a valuable tool in calculating damages.
In some instances, the injury due to the DUI crash could very well deprive the victim and his or her partner/spouse the ability to indulge in intimacy or sexual activity. This, in legal terms, is known as "loss of consortium." This type of compensation is claimed by the uninjured partner/spouse and cannot be recovered if you do not recover damages for your injuries. In considering these types of damages, juries will typically look at whether the decedent had a loving and harmonious relationship with the plaintiffs and assess the impact of the death on surviving family members.
Can I Get Punitive Damages in a Drunk Driving Case?
In addition to bringing a personal injury lawsuit to seek compensation for damages such as medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and other losses related to the DUI crash, you may be able to seek punitive damages. As opposed to compensatory damages, which compensate you for whatever economic and non-economic damages you may have suffered, punitive damages, in some cases, are awarded to victims or their families in addition to compensatory damages.
Punitive damages are meant to punish the liable party for particularly egregious behavior and to send a message that such outrageous behavior will not be tolerated. However, punitive damages may not be awarded always. As with all personal injury civil cases, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. This means the plaintiff must show or prove that the defendant's conduct was particularly egregious.
Under California Civil Code Section 3294, a plaintiff in a personal injury case can seek punitive damages when the defendant is found guilty of "oppression, fraud or malice." Under this section of the law, an injured person can seek punitive damages even when the defendant's conduct was not completely intentional, but when it falls somewhere between deliberate and negligent.
California courts have, in the past, agreed that drunk driving cases fall within this area, which means that someone injured by a drunk driver may seek punitive damages. For example, in Dawes v. Superior Court, a case that originated in Orange County, the court ruled that a plaintiff could seek punitive damages if the defendant knew that "probable serious injury" could result from his or her decision to drink and drive.
That incident, which occurred June 5, 1977, at Dana Point Harbor, involved a 13-year-old boy who was walking his bike on the pedestrian sidewalk at the entrance of Doheny State Park. The driver made a right turn without stopping at the stop sign, and drove at a speed of 65 mph on a road where the speed limit was 35 mph before striking the teen. The driver was determined to have been under the influence of alcohol. The court determined that the defendant was acting with "knowledge that probable serious injury would result to persons in the area" including the plaintiff and that his conduct showed a "reckless disregard" for the safety of others.
Contacting Our Experienced DUI Victim Lawyers
The experienced California DUI accident attorneys at Bisnar Chase have more than 40 years of experience representing the rights of injured victims and their families. We have obtained substantial compensation for victims of DUI car accidents and those who have suffered injuries in car accidents caused by someone else's negligence or wrongdoing. We offer our clients our unique no-win no-fee guarantee. This means that you don't pay any fees or costs until we secure compensation for you. Please call us at (800) 561-4887 to find out how we can help you and your family.