Deadly Alcohol-Related Wreck in San Jose
A woman is dead after an allegedly drunk motorist drove his car off the road, causing it to overturn.
The wreck occurred on El Rancho Drive. According to investigators, a 30-year-old man, who was speeding and intoxicated, lost control of his vehicle. His Volkswagen Golf left the road, careened into a utility pole, travelled up a dirt embankment, and smacked into a tree. A 28-year-old San Jose woman, who was a front seat passenger, was declared dead at the scene. The driver was rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries.
Authorities subsequently arrested the driver on suspicion of felony DUI.
Passenger Injuries in California
Most car crash injury victims are drivers. Injured passengers have the same financial and legal rights as injured drivers. However, to secure maximum compensation in these cases, a San Jose personal injury attorney must deal with some additional tangible and intangible issues.
California’s seat belt compliance rate is substantially lower among backseat passengers. That’s especially true for passengers in taxis and ridesharing vehicles. Therefore, California’s seat belt defense is more likely to come up in these situations. Insurance companies may use seat belt non-use to reduce or deny compensation to victims.
This defense is not easy to prove in court. The insurance company has both the burden of proof and the burden of persuasion. First, lawyers must convince judges that the defense is legally applicable. Then, they must convince jurors that the victim’s failure to wear a seat belt, as opposed to the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) conduct or misconduct, substantially caused the victim’s injuries.
Passenger injuries also have an emotional component, at least in many cases. Frequently, as in the above story, the tortfeasor and victim were in the same vehicle. Many victims understandably hesitate to file legal claims in these cases. They do not want to destroy their relationships with the drivers.
However, negligence claims do not “blame” the driver for the wreck. Negligence claims simply hold these drivers responsible for the mistakes they make. If we all did that, California would be a better place to live. Furthermore, individual drivers typically are not financially responsible for damages. The insurance company has a duty to provide a lawyer and a duty to pay damages.
Alcohol-related crash victims may use the ordinary negligence doctrine or the negligence per se law to obtain compensation for their injuries.
Essentially, ordinary negligence is a lack of reasonable care. This duty requires drivers to avoid accidents when possible, obey the rules of the road, and drive defensively.
Driving under the influence of alcohol clearly violates this duty. Alcohol slows motor skills and clouds judgment abilities. Therefore, alcohol-impaired motorists are less able to adjust to changing situations and more prone to take risks.
The impairing effects of alcohol begin at the first drink. Evidence of alcohol consumption includes:
- Erratic driving before the wreck,
- Bloodshot eyes,
- Unsteady balance,
- Odor of alcohol, and
- Tortfeasor’s statements about alcohol consumption.
The burden of proof in an ordinary negligence claim is a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. So, a little proof goes a long way.
If authorities arrested the tortfeasor for DUI, the negligence per se shortcut could apply. Drivers are liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a safety law, and
- That violation substantially causes injury.
Typically, the negligence per se doctrine holds up in civil court even if the tortfeasor “beats” the DUI in criminal court.
Reach Out to a Dedicated Attorney
Alcohol-related wrecks are legally complex, especially if the victim was a passenger. For a free consultation with an experienced San Jose car accident lawyer, contact Solution Now Law Firm. We routinely handle matters in Santa Clara County and nearby jurisdictions.