According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drunk drivers kill about 1,000 people in California each year, and injure many more. That’s no surprise when you consider that 1.8% of adult drivers in California surveyed admitted to having driven after drinking too much in the past 30 days. 1.8% may sound like a small number–until you consider that California has more licensed drivers than any other U.S. state.
With more than 25 million licensed drivers in the state, that 1.8% translates to hundreds of thousands of drunk drivers on the road each month.
Drunk Driving Accidents in Los Angeles, California
A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08% were four times as likely to crash as sober drivers. When BAC increased to .15%, the risk jumped even more significantly—these high BAC drivers were three times as likely to crash as those with BACs of .08% and 12 times as likely as sober drivers.
The risks of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol are well known, and DUI is against the law. So, it may seem that recovering for damages caused by a drunk driver would be fairly simple compared with other car accident cases where fault might be less clear. However, DUI accidents often present a different type of challenge.
DUI Accident with Injuries
California law requires drivers to carry motor vehicle insurance. However, a person who disregards the law against driving under the influence may be no more likely to observe the mandatory insurance law. If the driver has prior DUI offenses, insurance rates may have increased significantly, leading the driver to drop insurance or simply lose coverage after missing a premium. Some drunk drivers have already had their driver’s licenses suspended or revoked, and so may not even be eligible to purchase insurance coverage.
In short, there is a significant risk that the drunk driver is uninsured.
Drunk Driving Settlements in Los Angeles County
Even if the driver carries insurance, it may be inadequate to address the damages associated with a serious car accident or a drunk driver hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist. The minimum coverage required under California law is only $15,000 per person in bodily injury coverage (up to an aggregate $30,000) and $5,000 in property damage coverage. Low-income drivers may carry even less coverage, under a special program designed to ensure that California drivers have access to insurance.
In 2012, the CDC determined that the average lifetime medical cost to a car accident victim who was hospitalized after the crash was $57,000. That’s nearly four times the mandatory insurance minimum. And, of course, the cost of medical care continues to increase, and many DUI accident victims experience higher-than-average costs. Thus, there is a significant risk that even an insured drunk driver will not have sufficient insurance to cover actual damages.
Recovering Directly from a L.A. Drunk Driver
When the responsible party doesn’t have adequate insurance, it is theoretically possible to recover directly from the driver. However, many California drivers simply don’t have sufficient assets or resources to make direct recovery realistic. A judgment against someone who earns little and owns little is unlikely to be collected; having a judgment on paper does not help the injury victim pay medical bills or compensate for lost income.
This situation is aggravated when the accident involved a DUI. A drunk driver who caused serious injuries or death may well be incarcerated after the accident, meaning that he or she won’t even have wages to garnish.
I Got Hit by A Drunk Driver, What am I Entitled To?
In many cases, drivers injured in DUI accidents have access to other sources of compensation. However, the possible sources vary depending on the specifics of the accident, the parties involved, the available insurance, and other factors. It can be difficult for people who are inexperienced in personal injury law to identify those possible sources and pursue compensation. That’s just one reason that talking to an experienced car accident lawyer should be one of your first steps after being injured by a drunk driver.
Los Angeles Motorist Coverage for the Uninsured and Underinsured
One of the most common sources of compensation for people injured by drunk drivers—or any driver who lacks adequate insurance—is the injury victim’s own uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage. How much coverage is available depends on the choices the injured party made when selecting his or her own insurance. In California, insurers are required to offer uninsured and uninsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM), but the insured can decline.
Just like liability insurance, UM/UIM coverage is available at many different levels. An injured person who selected low coverage rates may face the same problem he or she does when the at-fault driver has low coverage levels—the insurance company may pay out, even at the policy limits, without covering the victim’s losses.
One issue that surprises many injury victims who submit claims under their own UM/UIM insurance is that the process can be quite adversarial. Even though the injured person is a client of the insurance company and purchased the coverage just for this type of situation, the insurance company will often make a serious effort to avoid or minimize payment. An experienced personal injury attorney can be a valuable resource when facing this situation.
Average Settlements for Drunk Driving Accident in Los Angeles, California
While it may be obvious that the drunk driver is at fault in the accident, other possible responsible parties may be less apparent. Some possible examples include:
- The owner of the vehicle, who may have negligently entrusted the car to an intoxicated, unlicensed, or otherwise dangerous driver
- The driver’s employer, if he or she was driving in the course of employment at the time of the accident
- A bar that overserved the driver or served alcohol to a driver under the age of 21
Not every case involves third-party liability. However, this issue is well worth exploring, as these additional responsible parties are often more financially stable than the drunk driver and have more substantial insurance coverage, increasing the likelihood of fair compensation.
Given the complexity of pursuing and collecting compensation after a drunk driving accident, it is in your best interests to contact an experienced DUI accident attorney as soon as possible after the accident. The sooner you begin investigation of your options and possible sources of compensation, the better opportunity your attorney will have to build a strong case on your behalf.