San Diego Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer


Aggressive Driving

SUV Rollover

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Drunk drivers face both criminal- and civil liability. Shamon Law’s San Diego drunk driving accident lawyers handle the civil side, bringing an action for damages against those who hurt others by driving their vehicles under the influence.

Every DUI accident victim deserves just compensation. Contact Shamon Law to discuss your case.

Who is Liable in a Drunk Driving Accident?

While drunk drivers face criminal liability if caught by the police, they also risk civil liability if they contribute to an accident.

The civil and criminal justice systems work separately. Accordingly, a civil court plaintiff can win damages against a drunk driver even if no criminal conviction results. Likewise, a settlement or a judgment against a drunk driver does not mean the prosecution automatically prevails in criminal court.

Theoretically, a drunk driver could have no civil responsibility if his actions had nothing to do with the accident. For example, if a drunk driver has stopped at a red light and another motorist slams into him, the other driver may bear 100% of the civil liability. It could be the different case regarding  vehicle rollovers. The drunk driver might face different charges for his actions.

But more often than not, he is at fault when an accident involves a drunk driver. However, California personal injury law works on a pure comparative negligence standard. By this doctrine, each party to an accident can be assigned none, some, or all of the liability.

The fact that the other driver was intoxicated creates no presumption that he bears all of the negligence. As with other personal injury cases, the plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant caused the accident to win damages. To win total damages, the plaintiff must overcome any defense arguments she contributed to the accident.

How Pure Comparative Negligence Works?

California’s pure comparative negligence law assigns each party a percentage of the liability between 0% and 100%. When arguing comparative negligence, lawyers compete to have more liability assigned to the other side and less to their clients.

Therefore, comparative negligence percentages are contentious in settlement negotiations. Should the parties disagree on comparative negligence, the case may go to trial, where a jury imposes its view of how much fault resides with each litigant.

For example, imagine Driver A turned left on a green light and hit Driver B. Driver A is at fault because Driver B had the right of way.

But could a court decide that Driver B has partial liability?

Yes, provided it believes Driver B contributed to the accident. For instance, if Driver B was speeding, this may have been a factor in causing the collision and in making it more severe. By this logic, a court might assign 85% of the liability to Driver A and 15% to Driver B.

Because Driver B bears 15% comparative negligence, he receives 85% of his total damages.

Comparative negligence opens the door to a drunk driver neglecting some of his liability by misconstruing the incident to place more of the onus on the victim.

Shamon Law defeats scurrilous comparative negligence claims. We gather the evidence that proves the defendant caused the accident. With proof in hand, our legal team has the ammunition to negotiate for everything our clients deserve and take unreasonable defendants to trial.

Punitive Damages

Drunk driving personal injury cases create a unique opportunity to win punitive damages in auto accident cases.

Courts award punitive damages to punish the defendant and serve as a deterrent. As such, the law allows them only in cases where the defendant acted in an egregiously reckless or intentional manner.

Most auto accident cases result from human error, and the error is within the scope of a typical auto accident. Usually, one or both parties made a misjudgment and caused an accident.

Drinking and driving qualify as an intentional criminal act. The offender chooses to get behind the wheel while impaired and knowingly endangers the lives of others. When drivers injure or kill people because of their intoxication, the harm results directly from their bad- and criminal act.

Do Punitive Damages Apply to all DUI Accident Injury Cases?

Not all DUI accident injury cases result in punitive damages. The award of punitive damages is in the hands of the jurors. They must consider several factors before awarding punitive damages, even if the plaintiff has demonstrated the defendant caused the accident and alcohol was a factor.

California Law permits punitive damages when the plaintiff proves they are warranted by clear and convincing evidence. This decision and the standard of the evidence are separate from the deliberations about compensatory damages.

Before a jury considers punitive damages, it must find the defendant liable for the accident by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence means more likely than not. Should the jury find the defendant liable, it then calculates compensatory damages, such as hospital bills and pain and suffering.

According to comparative negligence, the jury reduces the plaintiff’s award by any percentage of partial responsibility on his part.

With compensatory damages determined, the jury can consider adding punitive damages. The clear and convincing evidence standard is higher than a preponderance but less stringent than criminal cases.
To win punitive damages in an alcohol-related auto accident case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct was outrageous and represents a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others. The more extreme the DUI, the more likely a jury will find punitive damages. Also, the jury considers the severity of the accident.

California law sets no limit on punitive damages. Instead, juries consider the three following factors:

  • The level of reprehensibility of a defendant’s behavior;
  • The relationship between the harm to the plaintiff and punitive damages
  • The defendant’s financial situation
  • What amount punishes the defendant and deters others

What Should I Do After an Accident with a Drunk Driver?

As with any injury accident, report the incident to the police immediately. Take photos or video of the scene and gather witness contact information. Also, note any surveillance cameras in the area.

Avoid interacting with a belligerent or erratic drunk, leave that for the police.

What Are Common Injuries From Drunk Driving Accidents?

Drunk driving accidents cause injuries ranging in severity from superficial to critical to fatal. Common auto accident injuries include the following:

  • Burns
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Broken bones
  • Lacerations
  • Eye injuries
  • Brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Sprains
  • Strained muscles
  • Torn muscles
  • Organ damage

California DUI Laws & Penalties

Though California sets .08 as the legal limit for non-commercial drivers over 21, it is also a zero-tolerance state. Under zero tolerance, motorists face DUI arrest if alcohol impaired their driving, even if they test below .08. Drivers with BACs over .08 are presumed impaired.

California prosecutors can charge DUIs as misdemeanors or felonies. In addition, they or the judge can reduce a felony to a misdemeanor in a plea deal.

Sentences range from probation, fines, and license suspensions to mandatory incarcerations. Courts can jail first-time offenders for up to six months and second and third-time violators for up to 1 year.

A fourth conviction raises the charge to a felony carrying up to three years imprisonment. An injury DUI carries up to a year in jail and a felony injury DUI exposes offenders to up to 16 years in prison.

Fines range from $380 to $5,000. License suspensions run from six months to five years.

What Types of Damages and Compensation Are Victims Entitled to in a DUI Accident Case?

Personal injury plaintiffs can claim economic-, non-economic-, and punitive damages.

Economic Damages include the following:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Lost business income
  • Lost benefits
  • Other related expenses

Non-Economic Damages include the following:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium

Courts rarely award punitive damages in personal injury cases. However, a drunk driving incident opens the door to punitive damages when the defendant’s actions show an outrageous disregard for the rights and safety of others.

What Is the Average Settlement for a Drunk Driving Accident?

The average car accident settlement in California is $21,000. However, when severe injuries or wrongful death occur, the amount can be in the six, seven, and eight figures. A DUI vehicle accident could warrant punitive damages exceeding compensatory damages.

Contact Our Drunk Driving Accident Attorneys in San Diego Today

No one should be left in a financial hole and without compensation for their suffering after being hit by a drunk driver. Shamon Law’s San Diego drunk driving car accident team works tirelessly to prove the liability of the DUI driver and pursue punitive damages for egregious offenders.

Contact Shamon Law for a free consultation.

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