Is a Drunk Driver Automatically at Fault for a Car Accident?

Determining Fault in DUI Accidents | Law Offices of Mickey Fine

Drunk driving is extremely dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), someone dies in a drunk driving accident in the U.S. every 52 minutes. There are far more non-fatal drunk driving accidents, and these accidents change many victims’ lives forever.

Experienced car accident attorney Mickey Fine has helped injury victims in Bakersfield and throughout California for more than 25 years. He is committed to helping you pursue the justice and compensation you deserve after a wreck involving a drunk, distracted, or otherwise negligent driver.

What Is Negligence Per Se in California?

In California, driving under the influence (DUI) is considered “negligence per se.” Basically, when someone violates a law like California’s DUI statute, that person is considered negligent by virtue of the violation. Since proof of negligence is required in order to seek compensation for a car accident in a personal injury claim, this makes it much easier for DUI accident victims and their families to recover compensation in many cases.

However, while driving under the influence constitutes negligence per se, this does not necessarily mean that a drunk driver is automatically at fault for a car accident. An experienced attorney can assess the details in your case and explain your rights and legal options.

DUI Accident Victims Must Still Prove that the Drunk Driver Caused Their Injuries

Why? In order to recover financial compensation, DUI accident victims must also be able to prove that the drunk driver’s negligence caused their injuries. In other words, even if a person is driving drunk, if that person’s drunkenness is not a factor in causing a crash, then he or she may not be liable under California law.

To illustrate, let’s look at a fairly obvious (though fairly unlikely) example: A drunk driver is sitting at a red light. While sitting still, the drunk driver is hit head-on by another driver. In this scenario, even though one driver was drunk, his or her impairment was not a factor in the accident. In fact, while the drunk driver could (and should) still be charged with DUI, he or she may actually have a claim under the other driver’s insurance policy.

While this example is relatively specific, it helps to show why drunk drivers are not automatically held liable when they are involved in car accidents.

Proving that a Drunk Driver was at Fault

Of course, in many cases, drunk drivers are liable for collisions in which they are involved. The dangers of drunk driving are well-known, and being intoxicated increases a driver’s risk of causing an accident in a variety of different ways. So, while it is possible that a drunk driver could be found not liable, it is far more likely that a drunk driver’s impairment will give rise to a claim for financial compensation.

For example, the following are all consequences of alcohol impairment that can lead to serious and fatal accidents:

  • Weaving, drifting, or swerving on the road
  • Driving at excessive speed
  • Driving dangerously slow
  • Stopping suddenly and without warning
  • Ignoring red lights and stop signs
  • Failing to stop in time to avoid a collision

If you or a loved one was injured in an accident with a drunk driver that involved any of the above (or any other consequence of drunk driving), then California’s negligence per se law may help in proving your claim for financial compensation.

What if the Drunk Driver Isn’t Convicted?

In order for California’s negligence per se law to apply, the drunk driver must be found guilty of DUI or another alcohol-related driving offense. If the drunk driver is able to avoid a conviction (or if he or she is not charged), then you won’t be able to rely on the law of negligence per se.

But, this does not mean that you are without legal rights. Rather, it simply means that you will need to prove that the driver was negligent at the time of the crash.

There are many ways to prove negligence in drunk driving cases. Additionally, while a DUI conviction requires proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” obtaining compensation in a civil case only requires proof “by a preponderance of the evidence.” So, even if the available evidence is insufficient to prove criminal culpability, it could still be more than enough to establish a civil claim for damages.

Given all of the above, if you are coping with the effects of a drunk driving accident in Bakersfield, you should speak with an attorney about your legal rights promptly. At The Law Offices of Mickey Fine, we have decades of experience helping accident victims and their families, and we are passionate about helping in the fight against drunk driving.

Contact a Bakersfield Car Accident Lawyer for Free

If you have been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident in Bakersfield, we want to help you recover the financial compensation you deserve. For a free, no-obligation consultation, call the Law Offices of Mickey Fine at (661) 333-3333 or contact us online now.

Car Accident
by Mickey Fine Law
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