California DUI Victims' Rights
Drunk driving crashes are often classified as "car accidents." But it's important to remember that there is nothing "accidental" about why they happened. These are collisions that would have been prevented had the driver involved better used his or her judgment and not driven while impaired. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are about 10,000 people who die every year in the United States as a result of drunk and drugged driving. Even when these crashes don't result in fatalities, they tend to cause catastrophic injuries that may leave individuals disabled for the rest of their lives.
Those who have been injured may have trouble performing daily tasks or may need round-the-clock nursing and medical care for the remainder of their lives. In addition to suffering physical and emotional trauma, these DUI victims may be faced with mounting medical and therapy costs as well.
If you have been injured in a DUI crash, you have the right to seek and obtain compensation for your injuries and losses. Immediately contact an experienced DUI victim lawyer who will fight to protect your rights every step of the way.
DUI Victims' Bill of Rights
In California, Marsy's Law significantly expands the rights of victims including those who have been injured in DUI collisions. Under Marsy's Law, the California Constitution article I, § 28, section (b), victims have the following rights:
- To be treated fairly and with respect of their privacy and dignity and to be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse through the criminal or juvenile justice process.
- To be reasonably protected from the defendant and those acting on behalf of the defendant.
- To have the safety of the victim and victim's family considered when it comes to fixing the amount of bail and release conditions of the defendant.
- To ensure that confidential information or records are not disclosed to the defendant, his or her attorney or anyone who is acting on behalf of the defendant.
- To refuse an interview, deposition, or discovery request by the defendant, the defendant's attorney, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant, and to set reasonable conditions on the conduct of any such interview to which the victim consents.
- To be given reasonable notice of all public proceedings, including delinquency proceedings, upon request, at which the defendant and the prosecutor are entitled to be present and of all parole or other post-conviction release proceedings, and to be present at all such proceedings.
- To be heard, upon request, at any proceeding, including any delinquency proceeding, involving a post-arrest release decision, plea, sentencing, post-conviction release decision, or any proceeding in which a right of the victim is at issue.
- To a speedy trial and a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related post-judgment proceedings.
The Right to Receive Restitution
All persons who suffer losses as a result of criminal actions have the right under California law to seek and obtain restitution from those convicted of the crimes causing their losses. The court orders the convicted wrongdoer to pay restitution regardless of the sentence or disposition imposed in which a crime victim suffers a loss. The law also requires that all monetary payments and/or property collected from any person who has been ordered to make restitution is first applied to pay the amounts ordered as restitution to the victim.
DUI Victims' Right to Compensation
In DUI cases, victims often assume their only recourse is to file a claim against the drunk driver's insurance company to obtain compensation for their damages and losses. However, in many cases, this may not be possible if the person who caused the crash while driving under the influence does not have insurance. Sometimes, these individuals don't even have a valid license. And often, this is because the driver's license was suspended or revoked because of a prior drunk driving crash or conviction.
If you have uninsured motorist coverage, you may be able to seek compensation from your own auto insurance company. In addition, depending on the circumstances of the incident, you may be able to seek compensation from the establishment that sold alcohol to the driver. However, those types of options are limited in California since the state has a number of restrictions on dram shop laws.
As a DUI collision victim you have other options: You may be able to file a lawsuit against the driver's employer if he or she was on the job at the time of the crash or if they were driving from an employer-sponsored event such as a holiday party or some other event. Since the laws in this area are complex and challenging to comprehend, it is crucial that you contact an experienced California DUI victim lawyer who can help determine fault and liability in these cases, and secure maximum compensation for all your losses.
Staying on Top of the DUI Investigation
You may have a strong DUI personal injury or wrongful death claim if the at-fault driver received a citation or was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence after a police investigation. This puts you in the best place to negotiate the claim. There are also several other steps you would be well advised to take in order to protect your legal rights.
First and foremost, get yourself to a hospital or emergency room so you can receive prompt treatment and care. If possible, try to remain at the scene of the crash and gather evidence that will help your claim. If you smell alcohol or marijuana on the driver's breath, be sure to tell the investigating officer.
Make sure you file a police report and get a signed copy of that report for your own records. Also, ask the officer for his or her name and badge number. Try to get as much evidence as possible from the crash site including photographs and contact information for eyewitnesses. If you are injured and need to get to the hospital, ask a family member of friend to collect these crucial pieces of evidence from the accident scene.
It is also critical that you follow up on the case to see if the driver was charged and if the case went to court. If so, find out if the driver pleaded guilty or was convicted and sentenced. Your personal injury lawyer can help you gather all the court records showing the disposition of the case. This can help bolster your civil personal injury or wrongful death claim, particularly if the driver was charged and/or convicted of the crime and sentenced.
Blood Alcohol Content and DUI Claims
One of the main pieces of evidence that is needed to charge a driver with driving under the influence in California is his or her blood alcohol concentration or BAC. This is a number that shows how much alcohol is present in the driver's bloodstream. The BAC is typically determined through chemical tests of blood, breath or urine. A breath test is usually conducted roadside with a portable instrument called the Breathalyzer. A blood or urine test is done at a police station or hospital.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a DUI crash, it is important to be aware of how the driver's BAC might affect your personal injury or wrongful death claim. Such vital evidence can be used by your California personal injury lawyer to consolidate your claim and prove that the other driver was negligent and reckless by choosing to drive while under the influence.
It is even better for your case when you have an actual BAC level that shows how drunk the driver was. For example, if the driver had a BAC of 0.17, you could essentially show that the driver's blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.
The Right to Personal Damages
If you have been injured in a DUI crash, there are a number of damages and losses you may have suffered. The driver will most likely face criminal charges. Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is illegal under California Vehicle Code Section 23152 (a).
According to California Vehicle Code Section 23136: "It is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 years who has a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.01 percent or greater, as measured by a preliminary alcohol screening test or other chemical test, to drive a vehicle." A driver whose act of driving under the influence results in the death of another will likely face vehicular manslaughter charges under California Penal Code section 191.5 (a).
In addition to facing criminal charges and penalties such as jail time, probation and hefty fines, DUI drivers can be held financially responsible for the injuries, damages and losses they cause. While criminal prosecution might punish the drunk driver, it does not provide plaintiffs much in terms of financial compensation. DUI victims and their families typically suffer from significant financial losses because they are unable to return to their jobs while facing mounting medical expenses and therapy costs.
Here are some of the damages DUI victims have the right to claim:
Medical expenses: This tends to be a significant portion of the damages sustained by DUI victims and could include everything from emergency transportation costs, hospitalization fees and cost of surgery. It also includes other recurring expenses such as doctor visits, diagnostic tests such as X-Rays and MRIs, cost of medications and medical equipment.
Rehabilitation costs: Apart from hospital stays and other medical expenses, expenditures relating to rehabilitation can add up very quickly. Rehabilitation may include everything from physical therapy and chiropractic care to occupational therapy and psychological counseling. These are services patients may need to regain some of the physical strength and flexibility they had prior to the accident and also to regain emotional stability.
Loss of income: When you take time off work to recover from your injuries, you may end up losing a significant amount of pay. While you may be able to get a portion of your income in disability benefits, you may still lose a substantial amount of money, particularly if you are self-employed or do temporary or contract-based projects. In addition to the income you lose while recovering from your injuries, you may also suffer future losses. For example, some people may lose their jobs because of extended time away from work. Others may not be able to perform the jobs they used to prior to the accident. For example, if you have suffered an amputation, you may never be able to return to the construction job you had before the accident. So, anyone who faces diminished income, loss of career or livelihood may be entitled to additional damages.
Permanent injuries and disabilities: Car accidents have the potential to cause permanent injuries, scarring, disfigurement and lifelong disabilities. In addition to having a physical impact on DUI victims, such permanent injuries and disabilities may have severe emotional and financial impacts. Individuals are likely to become depressed as a result of not being able to return to work. Their family members might suffer financially if the injured victim was the sole breadwinner or wage earner.
Pain and suffering: DUI victims can also collect damages for the physical pain and mental anguish they endure in the aftermath of a DUI crash. Our California personal injury lawyers advise victims, regardless of the circumstances of their injuries, to maintain a journal after the accident describing in detail their physical pain, emotions and activities they can or cannot do. This might include playing with kids, cleaning the house, doing gardening work or playing sports, etc. Such a journal helps give a detailed account of how the injuries have affected your everyday activities and quality of life.
Wrongful death: Those who have lost loved ones as the result of a DUI crash can file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault parties seeking compensation for damages including medical expenses, funeral costs, lost future income, pain and suffering and loss of love and companionship.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
The experienced California personal injury lawyers at Bisnar Chase have a long and successful track record of protecting the rights of victims of impaired or negligent drivers. We don't collect any fees from clients until we have secured compensation for them. If you have been injured in a DUI crash or if you have lost a loved one in a drunk driving car accident, please call us at (800) 561-4887 to find out how we can help you.