California law dictates that it is unlawful for truck drivers to drive under the influence. Unfortunately, this does not mean that no truck driver operates their trucks while drunk or high. Every year, many people sustain injuries, and others die due to intoxicated truck driving.
If you are injured or your loved one lost their life in an intoxicated truck driving collision, you could be eligible to sue the at-fault truck driver. This blog looks at how to go about filing a lawsuit after being involved in an intoxicated truck driving accident. An experienced truck accident attorney can also help you file the lawsuit, and receive compensation for your loss and damage.
When To Sue an Intoxicated Truck Driver
California law allows you to file a lawsuit seeking compensation when a truck driver driving while drunk or high causes an accident that makes you sustain an injury. A motorist is considered drunk or high when the drugs or alcohol impair their capability to operate an automobile safely. To win your lawsuit, you will need to show that the truck driver acted negligently, and due to their negligent act, you suffered damages.
When a Truck Driver is Considered Negligent
Any truck driver owes other drivers, pedestrians, and other road users a duty of care. If they fail to apply reasonable caution to prevent injury to these parties when driving, they will be considered negligent. Proving negligence involves demonstrating that:
- The truck driver owed you a duty of care.
- They breached their duty of care.
- Their breach of duty caused a road accident.
- You suffered damages due to the accident.
However, in these cases, a truck driver could also be considered negligent per se per California statute. ‘Per Se’ (a Latin word) means 'of itself.' A truck driver is said to be negligent per se when they violate a statute or law implemented to protect pedestrians and other drivers. Put otherwise, violating a law is evidence of negligence by its very nature.
Under the state's negligence per se rule, a truck driver is considered negligent when they violate an ordinance, statute, or law, and the violation causes harm.
Once you introduce proof of the driver being negligent per se, it will be up to the driver to demonstrate that they did not break any law or their violation did not result in your injury.
The Accident Should be a Result of Drug Use or Alcohol Consumption
Irrespective of what drunk-driving law the truck driver violated, you must still show that the violation led to your injury. It is insufficient to prove that the truck driver violated a DUI law. If the truck driver was intoxicated, but the accident resulted from something else, like faulty brakes, the negligent per se rule might not apply.
Note that whether the driver's drug use or drinking caused your injuries is a matter for the jury to determine. It is up to your lawyer to join the dots for the jury so they can find the driver accountable for your injuries.
The Truck Driver Need Not Be Convicted to File a Civil Suit
A drunk-driving truck driver is committing an offense in California. They will have to answer for their crime to the state's criminal justice system and maybe the DMV for their criminal conduct that places them and other road users in danger. Although, no system will hold them accountable for any injury they inflicted upon you in an intoxicated driving accident unless you file a lawsuit against them.
A truck driver convicted of being intoxicated will not necessarily be found responsible for any collision they cause. Also, the criminal court presiding over their case may not direct them to pay restitution if found guilty. Generally, the damages awarded to crash victims are left to civil insurance claims or courts should the matter reach litigation.
If you have been injured due to an accident caused by a truck driver, the court does not have to find them guilty of their DUI offense as a requirement to file a lawsuit for damages. This is so because California civil liability statutes and criminal laws do not serve the same purpose and have varying standards of proof.
Criminal drunk-or drugged-driving laws are meant to punish intoxicated drivers and discourage others from operating a vehicle while drunk or high. The prosecution has to establish guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. Additionally, all twelve jurors must unanimously agree.
On the other hand, civil liability laws are meant to compensate the victims of unlawful acts. Here, you need to prove liability only by a preponderance of the evidence; that is, you need to establish that it is highly likely than not that the truck driver drove while intoxicated and injured you. Additionally, only nine out of the twelve jurors should agree.
However, a conviction of the truck driver can be convincing to an insurer or the court presiding over your lawsuit. Essentially, if the criminal court was convinced the driver was drunk-driving, it is reasonable to presume the civil court should make the same conclusion and apportion complete or significant liability to the intoxicated driver.
The proof used in the criminal DUI case can also benefit your lawsuit, including:
- Police report— the statement of the drunk truck driver’s arresting officer should be captured in a police report. Lawyers are conversant with local police agencies; thus, they know how they can retrieve valuable material to mount a lawsuit. They will also investigate to discover whether there are available blood-alcohol-content test results.
- Testimonies— criminal in-court testimonies that judges use to sustain a conviction are powerful proof to present in your lawsuit. Although the criminal court system is deliberately set separate from the civil court system, evidence of wrongdoing presented in one court can be used in the other by a skilled attorney.
Damages You Can Receive In a Suit Against an Intoxicated Truck Driver
By bringing a lawsuit against an intoxicated truck driver, you can recover non-economic and economic damages. Economic and non-economic damages (collectively known as compensatory damages) are intended to compensate victims for any losses they incur.
Economic damages entail tangible financial loss. They are:
- Medical bills (both present and future)— whether you sustained minor or severe injuries, you probably visited an ER or hospital after the crash. Medical expenses include those you incur during your initial stay and any you will face after you are released from the health facility, including:
- Occupational or physical therapy,
- Psychological counseling,
- Consultations with professionals,
- Surgeries, or
- Any medical device you may require due to your injuries, like crutches, wheelchair, cane, or prosthetic device.
A severe drunk driving truck accident could have rendered you in need of medical care that will follow you your entire life. If the accident left you requiring long-term care, whether while at a rehab facility or in-home, a skilled intoxicated driving accident lawyer may help you receive compensation for the costs.
- Property damage— if any of your property was damaged during the drunk driving truck accident, for instance, a car, motorcycle, bicycle, phone, jewelry, and so on, your lawyer can help you recover compensation for property damage and repair costs.
- Lost income and lost/diminished earning capacity— you may be incapable of resuming work for a given period due to the accident. Or, the collision may have rendered you incapable of working in the profession you previously used to work. The accident may even have rendered you unable to work whatsoever for your entire life. If any of these situations apply to you, you may qualify to recover compensation for lost wages or lost/diminished earning capacity.
You can prove economic damages with things such as pay stubs, invoices, and bills.
On the contrary, non-economic damages compensate for the intangible loss. They are intended to compensate the plaintiff for things such as:
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish and emotional distress
In every case, you will have to demonstrate that you incurred the damages, which resulted from the truck driver's negligence.
You Could Also Recover Punitive Damages
California law allows plaintiffs to recover punitive damages if an intoxicated truck driver injured them, although they are rarely awarded. To recover these damages, you must show by clear, convincing proof that the truck driver acted with malicious intent. Here, malicious intent does not imply evil intent. Instead, under the civil code, malicious intent means conduct meant by the respondent to inflict injury upon the complainant or despicable behavior performed by the respondent with a conscious and willful disregard for the safety and rights of others.
For the court to award you punitive damages on the grounds of malice, you must prove that:
- The truck driver knew about the possible dangerous repercussions of their conduct, and
- They deliberately and willfully failed to prevent those consequences
The Supreme Court held that the malicious intent requirement is satisfied when a truck driver voluntarily drinks alcohol or uses narcotics to the extent that they become intoxicated, knowing they must drive after that.
Your Family Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit If You Die In a DUI Truck Driver Accident
If a drunk truck driver hits you and you pass away, your family may recover compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death damages include:
- Lost consortium
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical bills for the period you were nursing your injuries
- Loss of financial support and companionship
Like other auto accident suits, recovering damages in an intoxicated driving case starts with consulting an attorney. The lawyer will spell out your legal rights and options for proceeding with a lawsuit. If you opt to hire them, they will investigate your case thoroughly and establish a basis for damages recovery depending on the circumstances and the statute applying to your case.
In most cases, the insurer will agree to settle. However, insurance companies and their lawyers usually try to reduce their responsibility for a claim using various tactics. If that is the case, you want to work hand in hand with an experienced DUI accident lawyer experienced in negotiating with insurers and who boasts the necessary experience to take your case to court.
You Can Still File a Lawsuit Even If You Were Partly At Fault for the DUI Accident
Just because the truck driver was intoxicated does not automatically mean they were 100 percent to blame for the collision. California follows the comparative negligence rule, also referred to as shared fault or comparative fault. This rule allows the jury to allocate guilt for a crash between more than one party.
Unlike other states, like Nevada, the defendant need not be 50 percent or more to blame for injuries in California. Even if the guilty party was only slightly to blame, you could file a lawsuit.
You Can Still File a Lawsuit Even If the Truck Driver Does Not Have an Auto Insurance Cover
Most California automobile insurance policies usually pay for compensatory damages whenever a policyholder inflicts injuries on someone else while drunk driving. This means you can recover compensatory damages like medical bills under:
- Your own underinsured/uninsured motorist policy, or
- The truck driver's third-party automobile liability insurance (up to policy limits)
However, you can still sue the truck driver directly if:
- The aggregate policy limits of all applicable policies do not cover your damages
- No insurance covers the road accident
The state's public policy forbids an insurance provider from paying punitive damages awards. Thus, if the court awards you punitive damages, you will have to collect it directly from the truck driver. This may not be possible if the truck driver does not have assets or they have so little to compensate for the entire award.
However, insurers still pay compensatory damages like car repair costs and medical bills. Your lawyer can review the driver's assets and your case and assist you in determining whether filing a lawsuit is worth the trouble.
What You Do After a Drunk Truck Driver Hits You Impacts Your Lawsuit Outcome
If a drunk truck driver hits you, there are various steps you should take to increase the chances of winning your lawsuit. If you do not follow these steps, the court may consider your suit null and void.
Firstly, you should contact the police. Once the police officers arrive at the scene, they will compile a report and conduct a chemical test. The police report plus the results of the chemical test are the ideal way of proving the truck driver was driving while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs. Therefore, once the police officers have compiled their report and administered the chemical test, you should request a copy of the test results and report as you may need them in court.
Secondly, you should collect info from the truck driver even if they are drunk. The information you need includes:
- Their name, address, and phone number
- VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)
- Their license number
- The truck's license plate number
- Their insurance policy number
- Their insurance provider's name plus phone number
Thirdly, take videos or photos of the accident scene and all the vehicles involved. You also want to note down anything you recall about the crash soon afterward.
You will need this information to file your lawsuit or insurance claim.
You Must Act Fast as You Have Limited Time to File Your Lawsuit
Under California law, victims have a specified period to bring their lawsuit. As California courts explain, personal injury lawsuits, including drunk-driving cases, are subject to a statute of limitations of two years. You must bring your lawsuit before the two years expire. Failure to which, you will forfeit your right to file your lawsuit.
There are various exceptions to the personal injury lawsuit's statute of limitations. If you reasonably could not have discovered your injuries at the exact time of the collision, which is uncommon in truck accident lawsuits, the timeframe to bring your lawsuit may be extended. Additionally, the statute of limitations does not usually run on minor children. A child injured in an intoxicated truck driving accident may still file a lawsuit even after the two years elapse.
With truck driver drunk-driving accident lawsuits, you do not have to wait long before taking legal action. You do want to miss compensation simply because the deadline to file the deadline elapsed before you brought your lawsuit. Apart from the statutory requirement, you want to consult an intoxicated driving accident attorney soon after the accident. Your attorney will not only ensure you file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out but also launch a thorough investigation into the accident, ensuring you can mount the most compelling case.
Find an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Any form of an auto accident can result in severe injuries and other devastating consequences. At the Truck Accident Injury Attorney Law Firm, we are here for any auto accident victim, including those caused by intoxicated truck drivers. Our lawyers will aggressively fight for you, working tirelessly to obtain the compensation you deserve to cover your losses. We represent victims throughout California after sustaining injuries in truck accidents caused by drunk drivers. We boast substantial trial experience and a track record of success litigating various DUI accident personal injury cases. If an intoxicated truck driver caused an accident in which you were injured, contact us at 619-754-7667 to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled lawyers.