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Personal Injury Lawsuits: A Costly Problem Drunk Drivers Could Face

Over the last few decades, we have seen countless educational campaigns, plus the implementation of stricter DUI laws, against drunk driving.

Still, drunk driving remains a problem in California and across the United States.

In Los Angeles, there has been an apparent reduction in the number of drunk driving arrests since 2009. However, the city’s average of 1,804 DUI arrests per 100,000 people each year from 2009 to 2018 has it at number 16 in the list of major cities in the United States with the most drunk driving arrests.

It can be perplexing why someone would even consider getting behind the wheel when intoxicated. The punishment for DUI offenses, after all, are harsh.

On top of possible jail time, convicted DUI offenders will also have to pay hefty fines and lose their driving privileges, among other penalties.

For example, in California, ignition interlock installation is also a mandatory penalty for repeat DUI offenders and first-time DUIs who caused injury to other people.

On top of the criminal DUI case, there’s also the possibility of being at the receiving end of a personal injury lawsuit, a civil case that could cost drunk drivers even more money.

Can An Accident Victim Sue A Drunk Driver in California?

The short answer to that question is yes. Anyone who sustained injuries in a vehicular accident caused by a drunk driver has every right to sue for damages.

For a successful personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the driver was negligent of their duty to exercise reasonable care while operating a vehicle.

Types of Damages Drunk Driving Victims Can Pursue

Victims of drunk driving accidents can file suit against a drunk driver to seek compensation for damages, which may include:

Economic Damages

Victims sue for economic damages, which may include:

  • Medical bills, including past and future diagnostic tests, physical therapy, prescription costs, and other medical expenses
  • Lost wages, including tips and bonuses, due to missing work because of the injury
  • Lost earning capacity, due to severe, debilitating injuries preventing victims from returning to work in the same capacity as before
  • Property damage, in cases where the drunk driver damaged the victim’s vehicle
  • Household services, which includes hiring help to do household chores for a recuperating victim
  • House alterations, including installation of wheelchair ramps, handrails, and other handicap aids
  • Transportation services

Non-economic Damages

Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages are less tangible. The following fall under non-economic damages:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental distress
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of reputation

Punitive Damages 

As the term suggests, punitive damages are intended to punish drunk drivers for their behavior. They’re also meant to discourage similar conduct in the future. When victims prove in court that the drunk driver consciously disregarded the safety or rights of another person, the victims receive punitive damages.

Calculating Damages

Calculating economic damages is easier because the cost of medical bills, lost wages, and services are reflected in receipts, payslips, etc.

In California, there is no limit on the amounts of economic damages that the plaintiff can claim in a personal injury lawsuit.

On the other hand, calculating non-economic damages is not as cut-and-dried as economic damages. Non-economic damages are subjective in nature and calculating for them can prove to be complicated.

Typically, personal injury attorneys take the amount of the economic damages into account and multiply them. They’ll factor in the level of pain the plaintiff is suffering, then arrive at a specific figure.

As for punitive damages, juries usually arrive at the final amount after determining the following:

  • The degree of reprehensibility of the drunk driver’s conduct;
  • The relationship between the amount of punitive damages and the harm suffered by the plaintiff;
  • The amount they deem will punish the defendant (considering their financial status) and deter them from similar conduct in the future.

As with economic damages, there is no limit on the amount of punitive damages in a personal injury case in California.

If the at-fault driver has insurance, their policy will likely cover most of the costs, but it will all depend on that policy’s limits. The drunk driver’s premiums are also likely to skyrocket afterward.

On the other hand, uninsured drunk drivers face the possibility of having to shell out tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars should a jury rule in favor of the plaintiff in a personal injury case. That is all on top of heavy fines and other costs that come with a DUI conviction.

Drunk driving poses a great risk not only to life and limb but also to a drunk driver’s financial standing.

The best way to stay out of this level of trouble is to never get behind the wheel while intoxicated under any circumstances.

Contact Artz and Sturm Law Group today if you’re facing DUI or other criminal charges in Los Angeles. Call 310-820-1315.

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