If you’ve been injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, the significance of the intoxication is dramatic under California law. As a claimant for personal injuries one has the burden of proof to establish all elements of a Negligence case against the other driver. However, in that driving while under the influence is a criminal offense in the State of California (in fact now an offense in all states), if the driver is criminally convicted of that offense that conviction can be used to establish the driver’s negligence in the civil action. It is still your burden to establish the intoxication was a substantial factor in causing the accident however. An example of this may be, were the driver not intoxicated his reaction time would not have been diminished and he would have been able to avoid the child that had ran into the street after the ball. In this example, a violation of the DUI law can create a presumption of negligence against the driver in striking the child, a situation where if the driver were not drunk the child would most likely be placed at fault by any police agency.
Furthermore, if you are successful in establishing the intoxication of the driver, as part of your damages you may be entitled to punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish a wrongdoer for conduct that harmed the plaintiff, but these damages are only available in certain circumstances. California law allows for punitive damages in the event the defendant acts with Malice and Malice can be defined as acting with a knowing disregard of the rights or safety of another, aka drunk driving. The downside of obtaining a punitive damages award against a drunk driver is that insurance companies are not obligated to pay for such under the terms of the policy. So, depending on the defendant, this award may or may not be recoverable.