According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk drivers cause more than 30 percent of fatal car accidents each year!  This is an alarming statistic.  California law generally does not permit the recovery of punitive damages in wrongful death cases - except in very limited circumstances - and drunk driving is one of those exceptions. Our San Diego wrongful death attorney adds that where a drunk California driver causes injury and death, punitive damages (exemplary damages) may be recovered to make an example of the wrongdoer who got intoxicated and drove drunk causing the death of another. In most cases where drunk driving causes injury the wrongdoer faces two separate legal actions: a criminal complaint and a civil claim.

In the criminal case, the state of California's prosecutor (district attorney) works to send the drunk driver to jail by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and that his or her actions caused the accident that caused the wrongful death. The civil case is as important, if not more important, to the family as the criminal case, as it provides monetary compensation for their loss. A civil wrongful death lawsuit against the drunk driver and his or her insurance company has a lower standard of proof compared to the criminal case: this standard is called "a preponderance of the evidence." When the evidence shows that it was more likely than not that the drunk driver's negligence (the act of drinking and driving, and not safely operating the vehicle) caused the accident they can be found liable for wrongful death. Where it is shown by clear and convincing proof that the drunk driver's conduct was reckless or carried out without regard to the rights and safety of others, punitive damages are appropriate under California law.