Drunk driving accidents tend to spike around the holidays. It’s particularly dangerous to travel on California roads in the days before and after New Year’s Eve. Most recently, drunk driving accidents claimed 36 lives between December 28, 2018 and January 2, 2019. Four of those victims were pedestrians.
The lives of the families of those 36 victims will never be the same. Instead of celebrating the new year with their loved one, they’re forced to grieve a tragic loss. One driver’s decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated can destroy a family in a matter of moments.
These families will never be able to bring their loved ones back. However, they may have the right to file a civil lawsuit against the drunk driver who took their loved ones away. The fact that a drunk driver is arrested and charged with a crime can be very helpful in a wrongful death case.
Negligence Per Se in Los Angeles Drunk Driving Cases
When a family files a wrongful death lawsuit, they have the burden of proving that another person’s negligence caused their loved one’s death. In order to prove negligence, a family must show:
- The defendant owed the victim a duty of care
- The defendant breached this duty of care in some way, and
- The defendant’s behavior caused the victim’s death.
When a victim is killed by a drunk driver, a wrongful death case can become much simpler. Why? The family can rely on the legal theory of negligence per se. Negligence per se means that a defendant is considered to be negligent because he or she broke a safety law.
In other words, plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit can use the fact that a defendant was arrested, charged, and/or convicted of a crime to help their civil case. If a defendant is considered negligent per se, the family’s fight to recover compensation for their loss can become much easier.
Breaking the Law and Negligence Per Se
Negligence per se can only be helpful if:
- The defendant broke a law that was intended to prevent the type of harm that occurred, and
- The violation was a substantial factor in the victim’s injury or death.
Intended to Prevent Harm
There are hundreds and hundreds of laws that are intended to protect the public and prevent injury. A defendant will be presumed to be negligent just because he or she violated a law. The law the defendant breaks must have been intended to prevent the specific type of injury or harm that occurred.
Drunk driving laws are in place to keep drivers, pedestrians, and others on the road safe. They’re intended to minimize car accidents and prevent injuries. If a driver gets behind the wheel while intoxicated, he or she has broken the law. If that same driver causes an accident or injury, they have broken a law that was specifically intended to prevent that kind of harm. Victims or families could ask a court to presume that the driver was negligent because of this violation.
A defendant’s violation of the law must be a substantial factor in “bringing about the harm” that caused a victim’s injury or death. In other words, it’s not enough to point out that a driver wasn’t wearing his seatbelt or rolled through a stop sign. Those violations can only be relevant if they were a substantial factor in the victim’s injury or death.
What Can Families of Drunk Driving Victims Recover?
Wrongful death lawsuits are similar to, but different from, other personal injury cases. One of the biggest differences is in the damages that can be awarded. When a victim files his or her own personal injury lawsuit, there are very few limits about the types of damages for which they can recover compensation.
When a family files a wrongful death lawsuit, there are certain restrictions on the types of awards that can be granted. Most notably, families can’t recover compensation for pain and suffering or the emotional distress that follows their loss.
Plaintiffs (families) in a wrongful death lawsuit can recover compensation for:
- Medical expenses incurred before the victim’s death
- Funeral and burial costs
- Value of household services the victim would have provided
- The loss of gifts or benefit the family would have expected to receive from the victim
- Financial support the victim would have provided, and
- Loss of companionship, support, affection, care, comfort, and love.
Families may also be able to recover additional damages by filing a survival action. However, only the victim’s estate and personal representative can pursue such a claim.