More than thirty percent of all traffic accident fatalities in the United States involve a motorist who was driving under the influence. It takes very little alcohol to reach the legal limit, which is a blood alcohol content level of 0.08 percent in every state. Even after only one drink, a driver’s skills can be impaired and can result in swerving and in delayed reactions. According to statistics published by the National Commission Against Drunk Driving, about a quarter of a million people are injured each year by drunk drivers, and about 10,000 of those injuries are fatal. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, traffic crashes that are linked to alcohol cost the United States approximately $51 billion every year. Although convicted drunk drivers are punished under the law in every state, and they may also be sued in civil courts for personal injury damages, in many cases, it is still the drunk driver’s innocent victims who suffer the most, and sometimes no amount of money can ever truly compensate for that suffering.

When someone gets behind the wheel after having too much to drink, that driver puts every other nearby motorist, passenger, and pedestrian at risk for an accident and for serious personal injuries. Even if you survive a collision with an intoxicated driver, you could sustain catastrophic injuries such as broken bones, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, severe burns, and more. If you are injured in an accident with a drunk driver, get medical help first, then take your case to a good personal injury lawyer, and in southern California, to an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney. In this state and in every other state, the law entitles personal injury victims to receive full compensation for all of their medical costs, lost wages, and all other losses and expenses, present and future, tied to the injuries caused by a drunk driver.

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HOW ARE VICTIMS COMPENSATED?

However, being “entitled” by the law to compensation does not mean that obtaining compensation will be easy. You’ll have to prove that you were injured – in a specific accident and by a specific drunk driver – with the help and advice of a good personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer can investigate the details of the accident, gather the evidence and question the witnesses, and fight aggressively for the financial compensation that you’ll need and deserve. Of course, it may take some time, and you’ll need to help your attorney and follow his or her recommendations and instructions. If you are injured by an intoxicated motorist, it is essential and imperative to consult with a good personal injury lawyer as quickly as possible. Evidence deteriorates. Witnesses forget. Both sometimes disappear. Your lawyer needs to be on the case as early as possible.

When a drunk driver injures someone, that victim has a good chance of prevailing with a personal injury claim. A driver’s failure to pass a breathalyzer exam is persuasive evidence in a personal injury case, and a driving under the influence conviction is even more persuasive. Nevertheless – and no matter how much cash is involved in a settlement or verdict – it’s often the innocent victim who ultimately pays the higher price in drunk driving accidents. Jada Benge of Bakersfield was only 33 years old, for example, when she was killed in a drunk driving accident in Monterey County back in 2004. The young mother left behind three small girls and a husband who were also seriously injured when a drunk teenager crashed into them. “The pain is still there,” husband Michael Benge told KBAK and KBFX News. “My girls were 8, 9 and 12 at the time when they watched their mother die.”

Rebekah Bowers Sanders also knows the anguish that an intoxicated driver can cause. Last year, she and her husband were on their way to Tulsa, Oklahoma, when a drunk driver crashed into their vehicle outside of Paris, Texas. Combined, the couple sustained broken ribs, broken arms, broken legs, a dislocated hip and shoulder, a broken eye socket, a shattered wrist, a sprained ankle and wrist, torn ligaments, and deep severe bruises. Rebekah Bowers Sanders recently told KLFY News: “I have yet to regain the vision in my right eye, and it is extremely unlikely that I will ever see out of it again. I will never get to look over my shoulder at my children playing in the backseat of the car. I will never be able to put on eyeliner the same way. I cannot enjoy 3-D movies anymore, and driving is a constant stress. So many other tasks that used to be easy take extra time and attention. You don’t realize how much you need the vision in both eyes until you lose one of them.”

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WHAT KINDS OF INJURIES ARE FREQUENT?

The most egregious injuries suffered by a drunk driver’s innocent victims can impact those victims and their families for life. Any blow to the head can cause a traumatic brain injury. Brain and spinal cord injuries happen far too frequently in serious traffic accidents. So does whiplash, which is common when a powerful impact occurs at the rear of a vehicle. Muscular, skeletal, and tissue injuries can very negatively affect your capacity to perform your work or to meet other routine responsibilities.

And while some of these injuries heal over time, the emotional ramifications of being injured by an impaired driver can last for life. Seriously injured accident survivors like Michael Benge and Rebekah Bowers Sanders are often at risk for grave psychological hardships after sustaining permanent and disabling injuries. The future can look genuinely bleak, and some survivors are overcome by feelings of isolation, alienation, depression, and fear. Those feelings can follow an accident survivor for the remainder of his or her life. But even without overwhelming, long-term psychological problems, accident survivors who have sustained serious injuries will almost certainly deal with some amount of depression for some length of time. Jobs and marriages can suffer. Sure, from the legal standpoint, drunk drivers are punished for their crimes, but in the bigger picture of life, it often seems like it’s the innocent victims who receive the greater punishments.

Orange County personal injury attorney

AFTER AN ACCIDENT, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

If you are involved in a traffic collision with an intoxicated driver, try to stay calm and collected. You need to take care of several important tasks almost at once, so you’ll need to think clearly and rationally. The first thing you must do is to seek medical attention for yourself and for anyone else who might be injured. Even if you don’t “feel” like you’ve been injured, it is important to be checked out by a healthcare professional. When an accident happens, adrenaline rushes through you, and it can disguise your immediate pain. In other cases, you might feel somewhat sore after a crash and try to shrug it off. Don’t. A minor pain or ache could develop into a serious medical condition days or even sometimes weeks later.

You also need to call the police when a traffic crash happens. You might need officers to testify as witnesses if you file a claim for reimbursement, and you’ll need a copy of their accident report. If there are additional witnesses, get their names and contact information. You must get the other driver’s name, contact, and insurance information. Usually after an accident, everyone tries to be helpful, but if the driver who crashed into you is too hurt, too drunk, or too antagonistic to work with you, ask the police officers to help you get what you need.

Every driver needs to be able to take photographs, and for almost everyone, cell phones now make that possible. Take plenty of photos after a traffic collision – you can’t take too many – of the accident site, the damages to the vehicles, the license plates on all of the vehicles, and your own visible injuries. If you are injured, ask someone to take those pictures for you. Often, photos can confirm a victim’s personal injury claims and lead to a quick settlement. Of course, you’ll need copies of any document that’s pertinent to the accident and injury – test results, medical bills, the police accident report, and any other related document. Keep all of your appointments for treatment and get the healthcare that you need. You’ll also be generating the medical records that your personal injury lawyer requires to advocate for the compensation you need.

When someone is injured by a drunk driver, a personal injury claim is likely to prevail if that driver is convicted of DUI, but you still have to prove your injury happened in that accident – not in some other way – and you also have to prove how much your injuries have cost you. Frankly, money cannot replace many of the losses that drunk drivers are responsible for, but a good personal injury lawyer will do everything to help you win a settlement or verdict that lets you move forward positively and constructively with your life. If you or someone you love is injured by an intoxicated driver in southern California, do not hesitate. Immediately take your case to an experienced Orange County personal injury attorney.

By: Chris Purcell

Attorney Chris Purcell is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law. He exclusively represents the victims of personal injury and wrongful death. Chris was part of the team that won California’s largest-ever wrongful death judgment – a $150 million verdict for a family devastated by a tragic trucking accident. In 2011, he received the Top Gun Award given by the Orange County Trial Lawyers Association.