Drinking and driving is an ongoing public safety issue in many states. Unfortunately, everyday drivers choose to get behind the wheel while under the influence and innocent people are injured and killed as a result. Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 35,092 people died in motor vehicle crashes. Of those who lost their lives, 10,265 were alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. This is nearly a third of all motor vehicle fatalities that year.
Those who survive a motor vehicle accident can end up with devastating injuries such as brain damage, spinal cord injuries, or internal bleeding. Some injuries can require years of rehabilitation or lead to a permanent disability. If you or a loved one has been injured or if your loved one was killed in an accident with a drunk driver, please do not hesitate to call the law firm of Woods Williford today.
Drunk Driving Happens All Too Often
Every day we share the roads with drivers who are operating their vehicle while under the influence. According to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), there are 300,000 intoxicated drivers on the road each day. However, only around 3,200 people are actually arrested for DUI. Unfortunately, much of the time, a driver who is arrested for driving while intoxicated has driven drunk many times before. MADD estimates that "[t]he average drunk driver has driven drunk 80 times before a first arrest."
In addition, according to the NHTSA, "[a]bout one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders." And even though a person convicted of a DUI may have a suspended license, that person may still drive regardless of whether or not they have permission to do so. MADD reported on one study that found that "50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license." This is one of the reasons that the organization is pushing states to require ignition interlock devices for all DUI offenders, not just those with a certain BAC level or with multiple DUI's.
Filing A Lawsuit Against An Impaired Driver
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that the risk of a fatal crash increases the greater the driver's blood alcohol content. If you or your loved has been injured by a drunk driver, you may choose to file a personal injury lawsuit against that person in order to recover damages. In order for a plaintiff to hold an intoxicated driver liable for the injuries that that the driver caused, the plaintiff has to show that the driver was negligent.
Negligence is the "failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation." Black's Law Dictionary 1133 (9th ed. 2009). To prove that a person is negligent, the plaintiff must prove certain elements. In California, these elements are "(1) a legal duty to use due care; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages." J.P. v. City of Porterville, 801 F. Supp. 2d 965, 990 (E.D. Cal. 2011). If a plaintiff can prove all these elements by a preponderance of the evidence then the plaintiff may be able to recover damages from the careless person who caused the plaintiff's injuries.
The compensation that you can recover in a personal injury lawsuit is categorized as either economic damages, noneconomic damages, or punitive damage. What damages are available in a case will depend on the applicable law as well as the facts and circumstances of the particular case.
Economic damages are defined as "objectively verifiable monetary losses including medical expenses, loss of earnings, burial costs, loss of use of property, costs of repair or replacement, costs of obtaining substitute domestic services, loss of employment and loss of business or employment opportunities." Cal. Civ. Code § 1431.2(b)(1).
Noneconomic damages are defined as "subjective, non-monetary losses including, but not limited to, pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental suffering, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, injury to reputation and humiliation." Cal. Civ. Code § 1431.2(b)(2).
Unlike economic and noneconomic damages, which are meant to compensate the plaintiff for his or her injuries, punitive damages have a different purpose. This type of damages is meant to punish the defendant for past reprehensible conduct and deter any similar conduct in the future.
In order to recover punitive damages in California, the plaintiff must meet a different burden of proof than when seeking economic or noneconomic damages. A plaintiff must prove that a defendant was liable by a preponderance of the evidence to recover economic or noneconomic damages. Punitive damages requires a higher standard of proof. To recover this type of compensation a plaintiff must prove "by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice." Cal. Civ. Code § 3294(a). If the defendant's conduct was so egregious that it meets this heightened standard, then punitive damages may be appropriate.
However, there are some instances where punitive damages are not available. In many states, California included, punitive damages are not available in a wrongful death action. However, there is an exception to this rule for the family of the decedent, if the decedent was killed as a result of felony murder and the person who killed him or her was convicted of the crime. Code Civ. Pro. § 3294(d).
Contact A California Personal Injury Attorney
If you or a loved one has been injured or your loved one was killed because of a drunk driver, please do not hesitate to contact the law firm of Woods Williford. We truly care about the clients we choose to represent and are dedicated to helping our clients recover just compensation for the injuries they have sustained. Call us today at (888) 340-2440, or click here to fill out our online form.