Most people realize that drunk driving is illegal in California, like the rest of the United States. What they may not realize is that drunk driving crashes can lead to both criminal charges and civil cases. The two types of cases deal with the same facts, but what the other party has to prove is very different—and the goal of both types of cases is also different.
On June 4, someone driving a pickup was traveling at high speeds before crashing into another vehicle and the side barrier on the 15 Freeway in Temecula. At least five total vehicles were involved in the incident. The driver was intoxicated at the time of the crash. He will likely end up facing criminal charges in addition to being subject to several civil claims for the damage and harm that he caused.
Criminal DUI Cases
In a criminal case, the State is the party that brings the action. This is true even if the driver harmed others on the road because of their conduct.
The State has to prove that the driver was, in fact, intoxicated and that he or she was operating their vehicle. There does not have to be any specific harm that resulted from the driver’s actions because the simple act of being drunk behind the wheel is illegal.
The driver will then face possible jail time, fines, and other penalties. These penalties in no way help the victims that the drunk driver may have harmed while driving. Instead, the money that the driver pays in fines goes to the state or the Department of Transportation.
Civil Cases Involved in Drunk Driving Accidents
Any time someone causes damage or harm to you, then you likely have a valid personal injury case. The same rationale applies when the driver was drunk and caused harm. You still have to prove four basic facts in this type of personal injury case, which include:
- Duty. The other driver had a duty to you not to cause you harm or keep you safe.
- Breach of that duty. The driver’s actions or inactions violated the duty that they have to you. This is often referred to as “negligence.”
- Causation. The violation of the duty caused you harm.
- Damages. You actually suffered some harm or damage because of the accident.
When the other driver is drunk at the time of the crash, he or she certainly violated their duty to you to drive safely on the road. That means that the first two requirements of your personal injury case are met pretty easily if you can prove that the driver was drunk.
Proving the Driver was Drunk
Technically, you do not have to show that the driver was intoxicated to get damages in a car accident case. You just have to show that they were driving dangerously. In the crash that happened on June 4, for example, the driver’s high rate of speed alone would have been enough to show that he was not safely operating his car. Showing a violation of the law is often enough to prove negligence.
You can show that the driver was drunk in several ways, including:
- That they appeared intoxicated after they got out of the vehicle to speak with you
- They were driving erratically, including speeding, swerving, or stopping and speeding up suddenly
- They smell like alcohol
- You actually see an open container in their vehicle
If you suspect that the other driver was intoxicated at the time of a crash, you need to report that to the police when they come to do the investigation.
One of the most helpful ways to prove that a driver was drunk, however, is to show that they were criminally convicted or that they plead guilty to a DUI charge. Criminal cases have a higher burden of proof (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) compared to civil cases. That means that a guilty verdict is practically definitive proof that the driver was drunk when the crash occurred.
Getting Help After a Drunk Driving Crash
DUI crashes can involve severe injuries and are somewhat complicated because of the overlap between criminal and civil law. If you or a loved one has been involved in a drunk driving accident that caused you harm or damage, contact us. We can help walk you through what you should do next. Call today to schedule your free consultation: 1-800-MANIBOG.