After a drunk driver hit me on Sunset Boulevard, my passengers are critically injured with medical bills over $50,000. How do I get compensation?
I'm in a tough spot and need some legal guidance. Late one night on Sunset Boulevard, LA, I was driving my sedan with three friends when a car coming the opposite way swerved into my lane. Turns out, the driver was DUI—tested at double the legal limit. The crash was severe. Two of my passengers got critically injured. One of them is still in ICU, and the other one has had multiple surgeries. The hospital bills have already crossed the $50,000 mark, and I'm struggling to figure out the next steps. I've heard that sometimes there's a cap on the damages you can claim from an intoxicated driver. How does that work in California? Also, I've never hired a lawyer before. What kind of lawyer should I be looking for? I've seen ads for personal injury lawyers and auto accident lawyers. Are they the same? How do I ensure that I'm getting a good one, and not getting ripped off on fees?
Your DUI Accident Claim
Given the significant injuries and the DUI involvement, this incident is not just a simple car accident claim. In California, when an accident is caused by a driver under the influence, it can lead to both criminal and civil liabilities. In the civil side, you can pursue compensatory damages, which include medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Additionally, in cases of gross negligence, like DUI, you can also claim punitive damages, meant to punish the wrongdoer.
Relevant Legal Sections and Links
- Vehicle Code Section 23152(a): Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Vehicle Code Section 23152(b): Driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08% or higher.
- California Civil Code Section 3294: Allows for punitive damages in cases of oppression, fraud, or malice.
- California Government Homepage
Navigating the Compensation Path
First, it's crucial to find the right lawyer who specializes in DUI accidents. Given the complexities involved, an experienced attorney can navigate the process and ensure maximum compensation. Consider contacting a personal injury lawyer or an auto accident attorney who has a proven track record in Los Angeles. They will be familiar with the local court system, insurance companies, and other nuances.
If you're concerned about costs, many lawyers operate on a contingency basis, meaning they only get paid if you win. Also, remember, while fees are important, expertise can make a significant difference in the compensation you receive.
Estimated Legal Fees in Los Angeles
|Initial Consultation||$150 - $350|
|Case Evaluation (Hourly)||$200 - $500|
|Contingency Fee (Post-settlement)||25% - 40%|
|Trial Representation (if necessary)||$5,000 - $15,000|
Note: Los Angeles has competitive legal markets, so rates can vary widely based on the attorney's experience, reputation, and demand.
Before proceeding, it would be helpful to clarify a few aspects of your situation:
- Were there any witnesses to the accident? Their testimonies can be pivotal.
- Was there any surveillance or dashcam footage?
- Did the police make an official report at the scene?
Lastly, remember: this journey, though daunting, is for ensuring that justice is served and you're compensated appropriately. Do not hesitate to ask a free legal question if you're uncertain about any step.
Q1: How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
In California, you typically have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. This period can be extended in some cases, but consulting with an attorney early is beneficial.
Q2: The drunk driver doesn't have insurance. What now?
Uninsured motorist coverage in your own policy can come into play. If you don't have this coverage, you might have to sue the driver directly, which can be challenging if they don't have the means to pay.
Q3: Can I sue the establishment that served the drunk driver alcohol?
Under California’s Dram Shop Laws, establishments are generally not liable. However, there are exceptions, especially if the driver was visibly intoxicated or underage.
Q4: What if the insurance company offers me a settlement?
It's always wise to consult with an attorney before accepting. Initial offers can be much lower than what you might be entitled to.
Q5: How long does the legal process take?
It can vary widely based on the case's complexity, willingness of parties to settle, and court availability. On average, it can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years.