Drunk Driving Accidents
What Are My Rights In A Drunk Driving Accident?
Generally, in an auto accident, a the injured party is only entitled to receive their monetary damages and an award for pain and suffering. These damages consist of past and future medical expenses, as well as lost wages and loss of earning capacity, and pain and suffering. However, if an intoxicated driver strikes you or your vehicle, you may be entitled to an award of punitive damages against the intoxicated driver.
Driving A Vehicle While Intoxicated Is A Punishable Offense
California Vehicle Code § 23152a makes it misdemeanor to drive a vehicle when a person is “under the influence” of alcohol. The code states that “it is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle.”
As such, if the driver of the vehicle was arrested for driving under the influence, then he is considered to be negligent per se. California Evidence Code § 669 codifies the common law doctrine of negligence per se as follows: (1) You violated a statute, ordinance, or regulation of a public entity; (2) the violation of that statute proximately caused death or injury to person or property; and (3) the death or injury resulted from an occurrence of the nature which the statute, ordinance, or regulation was designed to prevent. Here, it is clear that the above code is applicable to the present matter when an intoxicated individual causes a car accident resulting in injuries to you.
Intoxication Is Not A Defense
An intoxicated party may not excuse his inability to operate a motor vehicle on the grounds that he was intoxicated. If you have impaired your mind with liquor and chose to drive a vehicle while impaired, you may not attempt to then excuse your accident as simply stating “it would not have happened if I had not been drinking.” Yates v. Morotti (1932) 120 Cal. App. 710. That makes perfect sense but people have argued the above as a defense.
An Award For Punitive Damages
California Civil Code § 3294 states the following in relevant part, “in an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.”
In 1979, the California Supreme Court extended punitive damages to drunk drivers. Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal. 3d 890. The Court has noted that in order to justify an award of punitive damages under the theory of conscious disregard, the plaintiff must prove that the “defendant was aware of the probable dangerous consequences of his conduct, and that he wilfully and deliberately failed to avoid those consequences.” Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal. 3d 890, 895, 896.
In Peterson v. Superior Court (1982) 31 Cal. 3d 147, the California Supreme Court addressed the implications of the holding the Taylor case has on coverage for injuries caused by drunk drivers. The court held that an award of punitive damages in such circumstances was uninsurable, which means that the intoxicated individual who hit you will have to pay from his own pocket. However, the Court still noted that an insurance company may be obligated to pay the compensatory damages portion of the award, meaning that which they would normally have to pay.
A party may plead and support a claim for punitive damages, where an individual being drunk was the proximate cause of the accident and the act of driving while intoxicated was an aggravating circumstance. If you proceed with such a claim, make sure that your attorney knows as much.
In order to help determine who may have been at fault, please call an experienced San Francisco drunk driving accident attorney at Allegiance Law and schedule a free consultation. In your consultation we will address with you what goes into pursuing an drunk driving accident claim, including explaining the process of bringing a potential lawsuit.
We are available to meet with you during business hours, evenings and weekends. Our offices are located in San Francisco, but we will be happy to drive and meet you. There is no fee for this consultation.
Please contact our car accident attorneys at (415) 404-6395, or submit an inquiry via our web form.