Intoxicated motorists - drunk drivers - are responsible for about thirty percent of the fatal accidents in the United States. It doesn't take much alcohol to get to the legal limit, which in all fifty states is a blood alcohol content level of 0.08 percent. Just one drink can impair anyone's driving skills. The National Commission Against Drunk Driving says that more than 250,000 are injured by intoxicated drivers every year. About 10,000 are killed each year.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also tells us that the cost of alcohol-related traffic accidents in this country is more than $50 billion every year. Although drunk drivers face criminal penalties in all fifty states, and even though they may also be punished by civil courts, the sad truth is that in far too in many cases it is innocent victims of drunk drivers who pay the real price. Although compensatory and sometimes punitive damages can help to restore dignity to the injured parties and also to deter others from drinking and driving, the human losses can be catastrophic and life-changing.
When someone chooses to drive after drinking, that motorist puts other drivers, their passengers, and innocent bystanders at risk for severe and fatal injuries, including crushed or broken bones; severe head, brain, and spinal cord injuries; severe burns; disfigurement; and amputations. Obtain medical attention immediately if you are injured by an impaired driver, and then consult as soon as possible with a good personal injury lawyer. In Los Angeles County, speak with an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney. Under every state's personal injury laws, victims injured by drunk drivers are entitled to claim complete reimbursement for their medical treatment, their lost wages, and any other injury-related costs arising from an accident caused by an impaired motorist.
Of course, being entitled to claim reimbursement does not mean that receiving it will be automatic or easy. The drunk driver's insurance company adjusters and defense lawyers will do everything they can to limit their exposure. That's why you'll need a good personal injury lawyer who can not only prove that you were injured, but also who can prove that the drunk driver's negligence is the reason you were injured. A personal injury attorney will evaluate the facts of the accident, compile evidence, examine the witnesses, and work relentlessly for the compensation to which you are entitled. A personal injury lawsuit takes time, and if you file a personal injury claim, you'll need to help your lawyer compile documents, and you'll also need to adhere strictly to your lawyer's recommendations regarding the case. Contact a personal injury attorney as quickly as possible if you are injured by a drunk driver. Evidence can deteriorate or disappear. And even when witnesses don't disappear, they can forget details or be confused by the insurance company investigators' questions; so you need to put a good personal injury attorney on your case right away.
In order to obtain compensation for your injuries caused in a motor vehicle collision, you will first need to prove that the other driver was negligent. Negligence can be proven by showing that the other driver fell below the basic standard of care imposed on all drivers. The basic standard of care is that a person must use reasonable care in driving a vehicle. Drivers must keep a lookout for pedestrians, obstacles, and other vehicles. They must also control the speed and movement of their vehicles. The failure to use reasonable care in driving a vehicle is negligence.
If the other driver's violation of a law was a substantial factor in causing the collision, then the other driver is presumed negligent. If the drunk driver was convicted of driving under the influence, the DUI conviction is therefore helpful evidence to prove negligence. Evidence of a DUI conviction arising from the same incident can also support a claim for punitive damages, which are in addition to compensatory damages and are intended to punish and deter unlawful conduct.
Proving negligence is just the first step. You'll also have to prove that you were injured, and that your injuries were caused or medically aggravated by the collision. At trial you'll likely need medical experts and percipient witnesses to explain the nature and extent of your injuries so that the jury can add up the medical expenses and lost income related to the incident, as well as the value of your human losses including pain and suffering. This information will impact the amount of your verdict or settlement, which is supposed to be commensurate with the total price you had to pay as a result of the drunk driver's negligence.
In an accident with a drunk driver, the injuries can be catastrophic, impacting the victims and their families for the rest of their lives. If you've been injured by a drunk driver, it's imperative that you obtain the treatment you need to achieve the best possible medical recovery, and also to establish and maintain medical documentation of your injury. Your attorney will use your medical records as evidence to support your personal injury claim. Some of the worst injuries caused by traffic accidents include:
- Traumatic brain injuries: Any blow to the head could trigger a brain injury, and immediate medical attention is vital. If undetected, brain injuries remain latent and may emerge weeks or even months later as serious medical problems.
- Spinal cord injuries: Many victims never fully recover from a spinal cord injury. After sustaining a spinal cord injury, swelling and inflammation can considerably exacerbate the damage.
- Fractures: Some bone fractures can only be detected by a medical imaging device such as an x-ray or an MRI. What may feel like a sprain might actually be a fracture in the joint which can lead to arthritis, but many times you can only know by seeking medical attention.
- Connective tissue injuries: Even when you wear your safety belt in a crash, you can suffer a whiplash injury if your neck muscles are suddenly yanked and stretched. Or your knee can become injured if it hits the dashboard. Injury to the connective tissue including cartilage, ligaments and tendons, can have long lasting effects and may require surgical care. The insurance companies derisively refer to these injuries as "soft tissue injuries," to imply that they are less serious than they are.
- Herniated discs: The spine, or vertebral column, is comprised of bones called vertebrae that are separated by intervertebral discs and held together by ligaments and muscles. In a traumatic event, the discs can rupture, causing the soft material inside to leak out and press against the nerve roots causing pain and numbness that travels into the arms and legs.
- Crushed and broken limbs requiring amputation; burn injuries and disfigurement; hand and chest contusions; and ankle, knee, and wrist injuries are also common in traffic accidents.
All of these injuries can make it difficult or impossible to perform your work or even perform activities of daily living. And with every serious physical injury causing pervasive pain and physical limitations, there is also an emotional impact. You may feel helpless, anxious, hopeless, humiliated, or distressed. The emotional impact of severe injuries can affect people's jobs, marriages, and self-esteem.
If a drunk driver crashes into you, try to remain calm. The first priority after an accident is to get to a safe place away from traffic and to get medical attention for yourself and for anyone else who's been injured. Do not be afraid to ask others for assistance. If the other driver attempts to flee the scene, do not attempt to chase them. Write down their license plate number and call 911. If any witnesses are at the scene, ask for their names and contact information or make sure the police officers get that information for their report. The police report, although inadmissible at trial, is an important document for your insurance claim; so make sure you summon the authorities and cooperate with them so that they can create a thorough report. Even if you don't think that you're injured, do not overexert yourself because you may be in shock. Get rest and be mindful of how you are feeling over the following days and weeks. Some serious injuries aren't always immediately obvious or apparent.
Take photos after a traffic accident of the crash scene, damage to the vehicles, the license plates, drivers licenses, insurance cards, and your own visible injuries. If you're too injured, have someone take photographs on your behalf. Good pictures can be helpful to show the mechanism of your injury as it relates to the car crash. You also should keep copies of medical bills, test results, the police report, and any other documents related to the accident and injury. Then keep your doctors' appointments and obtain the treatment you need while your attorney works on your personal injury claim.
Everyone knows that money can't undo the tragedies caused by drunk drivers. A good personal injury lawyer can, however, help you access the resources you need to balance the harms and move forward after a drunk driving tragedy. If you or someone in your family is injured by an impaired driver in the greater Los Angeles area, don't wait. Contact an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney immediately.