DUI Crashes and Your Rights as a Passenger
Accidents that involve impaired drivers happen with shocking frequency and all too often injure or take the lives of innocent passengers. Over this past weekend, an Orange County car accident reportedly involving an impaired driver seriously injured the passenger, resulting in her hospitalization. According to news reports, the driver who is suspected of driving under the influence, crashed into a tree in Brea with such force the passenger was ejected from the vehicle.
Driving Under the Influence Still Accounts for a Large Percentage of Car Accidents
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day at least 29 people die in the United States in an accident involving at least one impaired driver. In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. (Id.) While the problem has trended downward over the years, impaired driving still accounts for a substantial percentage of the injury accidents in this country. In spite of educational efforts and improvements with enforcement, some people still get behind the wheel of their car while compromised by alcohol or drugs. Impaired drivers are sometimes accompanied by passengers who become victims when their driver loses control and crashes, as in the Orange County case above.
A more recently recognized potential problem has arisen with the legalization of marijuana use in some States. Because of the imperfect nature of testing, it is often difficult to determine whether marijuana use played a role in the happening of a driver who tests positive after the accident for THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana. However, we know that driving while under the influence of any substance, including cannabis, is dangerous. Cannabis, like alcohol, negatively affects skills needed for safe driving. By way of example, in Washington state, the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who tested positive for marijuana has doubled since the state legalized the drug for recreational use, a study has found. While correlation does not necessarily mean their is a cause and effect relationship between the two, we know that marijuana use can impair a driver, and with more users on the road the chances for an impaired accident must increase.
Your Rights as a Victim in a DUI Crash
As with any other type of car accident caused by a driver's neglect, if you are the injured passenger in an accident caused by a DUI driver you have the right to be compensated for all of the injuries and damages suffered as a result of the crash. This includes compensation for pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement, lost wages and medical expenses. These are all elements of damage recoverable under the law and usually paid by the driver's insurance. Sometimes, if it can be shown that the driver acted with "malice" as defined under the law the victim passenger might be entitled to recover punitive damages against the DUI driver as well, although this is rare.
In addition to compensation, some victims of DUI crashes are also entitled to procedural preferences in their civil cases that other victims are denied. For example, when the DUI driver is convicted of a felony (DUI with injuries can be a felony) the victim is entitled to trial preference in their civil lawsuit. This means the victim may have their jury trial scheduled sooner than other plaintiffs in their civil cases. In such felony DUI cases, under California law the court must "endeavor" to schedule trial within 120 days after the request for preference is granted. While 120 days may sound like a long time, most civil cases take one to two years from their filing date before the case is presented to a jury at trial. This preference for felony DUI victims can shorten that time considerably, which also increases the likelihood of a pre-trial settlement.
What to Do After a DUI Accident
If you were a passenger, or the occupant in another vehicle, injured because of a DUI driver then you will likely need the help of an experienced personal injury attorney in order to recover the injuries and damages you suffered. However, it is important to remember that there are things you can do right after an accident to better secure your right to compensation. Taking accident scene photographs (when it can be done safely) is often an important step to proving who was at fault for an accident. Beyond that, getting medical care as soon as you can will help document the injuries suffered as a result of the collision. Waiting too long may call into question the cause of the injuries actually suffered in the DUI crash. Mr. Ralph has 30 years of experience handling DUI cases and other personal injury matters. His office in the City of Orange is conveniently located near three freeways for easy client access. Mr. Ralph is available for a free consultation in his office or via email at any time.