DUI in California
Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious crime in California, and it can lead to both criminal and civil lawsuits. While criminal DUI cases focus on punishing the offender and deterring future violations, civil DUI lawsuits aim to compensate the victim for the damages caused by the offender’s actions. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about civil DUI lawsuits in California, including the types of lawsuits, factors that affect the outcome, the role of evidence, defenses, and more.
Introduction to Civil DUI Lawsuits in California
Civil DUI lawsuits can be filed by anyone who has suffered damages as a result of another person’s DUI. These damages can include property damage, medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related expenses. The victim can file a lawsuit against the offender or anyone who contributed to the accident, such as the owner of the vehicle or the establishment that served alcohol to the offender.
Civil DUI lawsuits are separate from criminal cases, and they can be filed regardless of whether the offender has been convicted of DUI or not. This means that even if the offender is acquitted of criminal charges, they can still be held liable in civil court for the damages they caused.
Understanding the Difference Between Criminal and Civil DUI Cases
Criminal and civil DUI cases have different objectives, rules, and procedures. In criminal cases, the prosecutor represents the state and seeks to prove that the offender is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The offender can face penalties such as fines, jail time, probation, community service, and license suspension or revocation.
In civil cases, the victim represents themselves and seeks to prove that the offender is liable for the damages they caused. The burden of proof is lower than in criminal cases, as the victim only needs to show that it is more likely than not that the offender caused the damages. The offender can face penalties such as compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees.
Types of Civil DUI Lawsuits in California
There are several types of civil DUI lawsuits that can be filed in California, depending on the circumstances of the accident. Some common types of lawsuits include:
Personal injury lawsuits: These lawsuits are filed by victims who have suffered physical injuries as a result of the DUI accident. The damages can include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related expenses.
Property damage lawsuits: These lawsuits are filed by victims who have suffered damage to their property as a result of the DUI accident. The damages can include repair or replacement costs, loss of use, and other related expenses.
Wrongful death lawsuits: These lawsuits are filed by the family members of a person who died as a result of the DUI accident. The damages can include funeral expenses, loss of income, loss of companionship, and other related expenses.
Factors That Affect the Outcome of Civil DUI Lawsuits
Several factors can affect the outcome of civil DUI lawsuits in California. Some of these factors include:
- The strength of the evidence: The victim needs to present sufficient evidence to prove that the offender caused the damages. This can include eyewitness testimony, police reports, medical records, and other related evidence.
- The severity of the damages: The amount of damages the victim suffered can affect the amount of compensation they receive. Generally, the more severe the damages, the higher the compensation.
- The credibility of the parties: The credibility of the victim, the offender, and any witnesses can affect the outcome of the lawsuit. If the victim or witnesses are not credible, the court may not accept their testimony.
The Role of Evidence in Civil DUI Lawsuits
Evidence plays a crucial role in civil DUI lawsuits. The victim needs to present sufficient evidence to prove that the offender caused the damages. This can include:
- Eyewitness testimony: Witnesses who saw the accident happen can provide valuable testimony about what happened.
- Police reports: Police reports can provide information about the cause of the accident, the offender’s blood alcohol level, and other related information.
- Medical records: Medical records can provide information about the victim’s injuries and the treatment they received.
- Expert testimony: Experts such as accident reconstruction specialists or medical professionals can provide testimony about the cause of the accident or the extent of the victim’s injuries.
Defenses Against Civil DUI Lawsuits
There are several defenses that the offender can use to defend against civil DUI lawsuits in California. Some common defenses include:
- Comparative negligence: The offender can argue that the victim was partially responsible for the accident and therefore should not receive full compensation.
- Lack of causation: The offender can argue that their actions did not cause the damages suffered by the victim.
- Lack of damages: The offender can argue that the damages suffered by the victim were not caused by the accident or were not severe enough to warrant compensation.
Hiring a DUI Defense Attorney for Civil DUI Lawsuits
If you are facing a civil DUI lawsuit in California, it is important to hire an experienced DUI defense attorney. A DUI defense attorney can help you understand your rights, evaluate the strength of the evidence against you, and develop a defense strategy that can help you minimize your liability.
A DUI defense attorney can also represent you in court and negotiate with the victim or their attorney to reach a settlement that is fair and reasonable. If a settlement cannot be reached, the attorney can represent you in court and present a defense on your behalf.
The Importance of Properly Responding to Civil DUI Lawsuits
It is important to properly respond to civil DUI lawsuits in California to avoid default judgments or other penalties. If you are served with a lawsuit, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to help you respond to the lawsuit.
The response should be filed within a certain timeframe and should contain a clear and concise statement of your defenses. Failure to respond to the lawsuit can result in a default judgment against you, which can lead to significant financial penalties.
Settlements and Judgments in Civil DUI Lawsuits
In civil DUI lawsuits, settlements and judgments can vary widely depending on the circumstances of the accident and the strength of the evidence. Settlements are typically negotiated between the parties and can involve a lump sum payment or a structured payment plan.
Judgments are issued by the court and can include compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees. The amount of damages awarded can depend on the severity of the damages suffered by the victim, the offender’s level of negligence, and other related factors.
What is the general definition of a DUI as defined by California?
Under California Vehicle Code 23152 (a), a driver is under the influence and is considered impaired if their BAC is at or above .08%.
How is the BAC a determinative indication of impairment under the California Vehicle Code to warrant criminal penalties upon a conviction?
There is a Per Se rule in the State of California. The Blood Alcohol Content level (BAC) can assist law enforcement in their conclusion of determining impairment. In the State of California, the legal limit, once again, is .08%. This is referred to as “Per Se DUI.” Per se means that the standard of proof of guilt, which in this case is Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.
The reference means that if you are pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence and agree to a breathalyzer (PAS) or chemical test for blood, breath or urine at a hospital or police station this is enough evidence to charge you with a violation of a DUI- exceptions can apply without a Field Sobriety Test. This does not mean you are guilty of the charge. And it does not mean there are no exceptions.
Are there special categories of BAC assessments under the California Vehicle Code to warrant sufficient cause to apply these elements to warrant an arrest?
Yes, if you are under the age of 21 the BAC drops to .01%. There are BAC reductions as a Commercial Driver who retained a DOT Commercial license to operate a vehicle in the State of California. Commercial Drivers have a BAC limit of .04%.
What is considered driving under California Vehicle Code 23152(a) to warrant sufficient cause to apply these elements to warrant an arrest?
The driver must have control of the vehicle at the moment upon an inquiry by law enforcement. This means that having the keys in the ignition or the car being turned on while the car is in park can qualify as control of the vehicle.
Can impairment be anything other than alcohol to warrant criminal penalties for a DUI in the State of California?
Yes, under California Vehicle Code 23152(f), the substance qualifying as impairment can be more than alcohol it can be illicit drugs, or a prescription.
What if I do not have a car, can I still be found criminal liable for a DUI in the State of California?
Yes, the vehicle must be operational, in the State of California a vehicle can include a bike, scooter or boat. The same requisites of having control of the vehicle apply.
What are the criminal penalties of a DUI in the State of California?
The penalties can range from: enhancement of a misdemeanor to a felony; to the imposition of jail time to state prison; all of which is upon a plea for a conviction or judgement based upon a sentence subsequent to a trial.
Other criminal penalties that would be administered either by the California Department of Probations by a plea, or judgement subsequent to a trial can include: taking DUI and or Drug classes; as well as enrichment classes such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Hospital (MADD) and Morgue (HAM) sessions.
There are fines and fees associated upon a plea for a conviction or judgement based upon a sentence subsequent to a trial which can range, dependent on the county in California from $ 1200-$5000 dollars. The same goes for jail or prison time which can be mandatory, dependent on the county in California upon a plea for a conviction or judgement based upon a sentence subsequent to a trial.
What are the collateral assessments associated with a criminal penalty in the State of California?
Collateral issues are those that are outside the realm of the Criminal Court’s ruling. These issues can affect your driver’s license. In the State of California, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) once a transmittal of an arrest report, and or upon a charging document can initiate a DMV hearing. The DMV hearing officer will assess your record and the police report. The hearing can take place subsequent to an act of consenting to a plea for a conviction or judgement based on sentence subsequent to a trial.
Collateral criminal penalties from the California DMV hearing can include a license suspension ranging between 90 days to 3 years if there are subsequent convictions ranging within a 10-year period.
What are criminal conviction damages?
Criminal conviction concerning damages derive from Restitution Hearings. Restitution Hearings are directly associated with the Court’s ruling. It is a separate hearing conducted upon a plea for a conviction, or judgement based upon a sentence subsequent to a trial. If there is property damage, personal injuries to other drivers, passengers or bystanders that have been documented by medical reports and treatment evaluations.
These documents are considered evidentiary proof that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The only thing collectable in the scope of criminal conviction damages are the expenses incurred.
So, what are Civil DUIs in the State of California?
In the State of California, once the accused is convicted as a driver under the influence of alcohol and is considered driving a vehicle impaired, the driver is now considered an at-fault driver.
What is the significance of being an at fault driver in the State of California?
In the State of California, an at-fault driver is the equivalent of being negligent because the driver’s operation of a vehicle while impaired fell below a standard of care that is reasonably expected of all drivers operating a vehicle in the State of California under the same statute. But before the tort of negligence must be some causation of bodily or property injury or assesses of an effect that is approximately caused from the Defendant’s conduct which resulted in a criminal conviction of driving while impaired under a California Vehicle Code.
What does causation mean in the State of California?
Causation, in the State of California, means all injuries which derive from any foreseeable conduct causing injury against the defendant listed as a claim in the plaintiff’s pleadings. In this circumstance, the claim would be negligence. Other claims might include:
- Wrongful Death,
- Negligent Entrustment.
Causation in the scope of Negligence would indicate that the Defendant’s conduct of driving a vehicle while impaired was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But the damages in a civil court must meet another standard.
The Standard is Clear and Convincing Evidence that requires no doubt but the indication that it is more likely than not the Defendant’s conduct was the foreseeable act and consequence of the Plaintiff’s injury which must be substantially proven from evidence supporting the claims raised in the pleadings; such a nexus may warrant a settlement for an award of damages, or damages that are awarded based on a judgment upon a sentence subsequent to a trial.
Causation is required to qualify the driver’s conduct as a Civil DUI in the State of California.
What are the damages involved in a Civil DUI?
The basic damages that a claimant can plead, as associated with the claims asserted in his or her pleadings- which in this case is assumed to be Negligence are: Compensatory Damages; Pain and Suffering; and Punitive Damages.
Compensatory Damages are: property damage, Loss of Work and Income, and Medical Expenses. Pain and Suffering Damages are: The suffering for the Bodily Harm and Recovery process. Punitive Damages are: Any and all damages the Court believes the DUI driver might deserve due to the consequential results that derived from a criminal conviction which support the asserted claims pled. These listed damages can be categorized as economic and non-economic harm.
What is the Significance of Punitive Damages in the State of California?
Malice can be expressed or implied in non-contract civil claims. Punitive Damages can be recovered in non-contract cases where a driver convicted of a DUI through his or her conviction can be found implicitly malicious. Implied malice can be ascertained by a reckless disregard for the safety of others, otherwise known as criminal negligence or mischievousness.
Dependent on the aggravation of the injuries, the foreseeable conduct must indicate a level of spite with a conscious and or deliberate disregard of the interest of others- can be willful or wanton. But a conscious disregard for safety when property or personal injury is involved might be sufficient to warrant a recovery for punitive damages.
In some circumstances, a person who willfully drinks to the point of unlawful impairment knowing that they are operating a vehicle, or did so knowingly prior to or during diminishment, for which the impairment affected their lawful abilities to operate a vehicle can be considered a conscious disregard for the safety of others.
What are Some of the Defenses Associated with a Civil DUI?
- Intervening or Supervening Circumstances or conduct of others; Unforeseeable Acts of Nature; Comparative Fault or Comparative Negligence.
- SMJ to insufficient pleading of the claims thought correct.
- Demurer to the lack of pleading conformity, and or pleading the incorrect claims as associated with the facts.
a. Malfunctioning Vehicle.
b. Lack of knowledge of an intoxicating substance at the time of consumption.
c. Lack of knowledge of the effects of new prescription pills.
Civil DUI lawsuits can be complex and challenging, but with the help of an experienced DUI defense attorney, you can protect yourself and minimize your liability. Understanding the difference between criminal and civil DUI cases, the types of lawsuits, the factors that affect the outcome, the role of evidence, and the defenses available can help you prepare for any potential lawsuits.
Need an Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529
Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Attorney who has over 21 years of practice defending a variety of cases.