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Drunk Driving and Personal Injury

Alcohol, Keys and GavelDuring the holiday season, California’s roads and freeways are crowded with people traveling to visit family and friends. And sadly, some drivers may be intoxicated, regardless of the time of year. Drunk drivers are dangerous, and often cause tragic accidents, with significant property damage and devastating injuries or even deaths. If you or a loved one is injured or killed in a car accident caused by an intoxicated driver, you may have the basis for a personal injury lawsuit.

California’s Legal Limit

In California, drivers are not permitted to operate motor vehicles if their blood alcohol content is 0.08 percent or higher. Drivers of commercial vehicles, such as taxis or trucks, may not drive if their blood alcohol content is 0.04 percent or higher. For drivers who are under the age of 21, the legal limit is 0.05 percent. California drivers are also prohibited from driving while under the influence of any drug.

If a driver violates any of these statutes and, as a result of the violation, causes an accident, harming either other people or property, that constitutes negligence per se. This means that the victim of the accident does not have to prove that the driver was negligent in order to recover damages. The fact that the driver violated the statute creates a presumption that he or she was negligent, and the victim will be compensated for his or her injuries.

Negligence Suits

If a driver who causes an accident has been drinking, but he or she is not sufficiently intoxicated to be convicted of a DUI, that does not mean that the victim of the accident cannot recover damages. The victim may still file a negligence suit. But he or she must introduce evidence of the driver’s intoxication and show that the driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle was impaired. Showing that the driver was incapable of driving safely is more difficult than demonstrating violation of California’s DUI laws, but it may still be possible.

Negligent Entrustment

In some cases, parties other than the intoxicated driver may be responsible for damages in California. If a car owner loans a car to a driver whom the owner knows or should have known is intoxicated, the owner may be liable for a portion of the damages under a theory of negligent entrustment. Additionally, employers may be liable for damage caused by employees who are drunk or high.


Drunk driving accidents are often more serious than other car crashes. Intoxicated drivers’ reaction times are impaired, and they may not be able to react quickly enough to avoid more serious accidents and further damage.

Victims of drunk driving accidents may be able to recover compensation for medical expenses, physical therapy, lost wages, pain and emotional suffering, disfigurement and scarring, and property damage.

In some cases, accident victims may also be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are only available in egregious cases, and are designed to punish the wrongdoer and to serve as a deterrent, rather than to compensate the victim for any losses. To recover, a victim must show that the driver was aware of the likely consequences and deliberately disregarded the risk. Drivers must pay out-of-pocket for punitive damages. Insurance companies do not cover these damages, though they still must pay compensatory damages.

If you have been injured in a car accident involving an intoxicated driver, please contact the dedicated San Jose personal injury attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for a free consultation.

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