I Got Hit by a Drunk Driver: Can I Sue for Damages? By Charles T. Hoge on April 30, 2024

Alcoholic beverages and a set of car keys on a table

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving accidents claim 37 lives a day. Filing a lawsuit for a serious car crash in San Diego County will help you receive compensation to address injuries, the death of a loved one, and other losses associated with the accident.

Yet there's a matter of liability to consider even in DUI crashes. There are some cases in which parties other than the drunk driver may be legally liable for the crash.

I'd like to review some different scenarios to explore legal liability in a drunk driving accident. During a free case evaluation, I can determine if you have a viable claim and connect you with a San Diego personal injury lawyer who can help you seek legal damages.


Legal Liability in a DUI Crash

If a drunk driver gets into a car crash and is intoxicated at the time of the accident, they are considered legally liable for the car accident.

A driver age 21 or older is considered drunk if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher. If the drunk driver is operating a commercial vehicle at the time of the crash, their legal limit is a BAC of 0.04% or higher.

What About Passengers in a Drunk Driver's Vehicle?

If you were the passenger in an intoxicated driver's vehicle at the time of a crash, you can potentially sue the drunk driver for damages.

It's crucial to consult a San Diego car crash attorney about what happened as you could be considered partially at fault for the crash, which can affect how much compensation you can receive through civil litigation.

Accidents Involving Underage Drunk Drivers

If a drunk driver is under the age of 21, they can only have a BAC of 0.01%. Anything over that is considered over the legal limit for people below the legal drinking age.

Legal responsibility typically depends on the age of the underage person at the time of the crash.

  • Drunk Drivers Younger Than 18 - According to Section 17707 of the vehicle code, the person who signed and verified the application for a minor's driver's license is responsible for civil liability. That typically means the parent or legal guardian of a minor.
  • Drunk Drivers Ages 18-20 - For drunk drivers who are 18-20 years old, they are legally liable for accidents they cause or contribute to while operating a vehicle.

A San Diego car accident lawyer can help determine who is liable for injuries and any other damage caused.


Bartender with multiple draft beers on tap at a bar

Can the Person Who Served the Driver Alcohol Be Held Liable for a Crash?

California has unique laws when it comes to businesses and individuals that serve alcohol to drivers in DUI crashes. In some states, these are known as social host and dram shop laws. Social host laws apply to households and private citizens who provide drinks to guests, while dram shop laws apply to bars and restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages to customers.

In the Golden State, dram shop and social host laws apply to cases in which an intoxicated person is under the legal drinking age and is served alcoholic beverages. Social host and dram shop liability laws do not apply to drivers who are of legal drinking age.

When you work with a San Diego personal injury attorney, your lawyer will let you know if these laws about third-party liability apply to your case.

Dram Shop Liability in California

Dram shop liability in a drunk driving accident applies to bars, restaurants, and other commercial establishments that serve alcohol. If one of these establishments serves alcohol to a person who is under 21 years old, they can be held liable for both:

  • Injuries and damages sustained by the underage drunk driver in a crash, and
  • Injuries and damages caused by the underage drunk driver while operating a vehicle

For example, say that a bar in North Park failed to card patrons or check IDs before serving drinks. The bartender or servers continue to serve alcohol to an underage person even though they are visibly alcohol impaired. That bar could be held liable for medical expenses and vehicle repairs if the underage drinker gets into a crash.

Social Host Liability in California

Social host liability in a drunk driving accident applies to private residences and functions in which alcohol is served. This could be anything from a pool party to a birthday dinner.

Like dram shop liability, social hosts who serve underage drinkers alcohol can be held liable for injuries and damages experienced by the underage drinker and any inviduals involved in a DUI crash.

For example, say that the owners of a home have a summer barbeque in their backyard and invite their neighbors. During the party, the hosts of the party serve beer or liquor to an underage person. That underage person then proceeds to drink and drive, causing a serious car accident. The hosts of the BBQ can be held liable for contributing to the intoxication of a minor as well as the accident that occurred.

Taking All Liable Parties to Task

Third-party liability through dram shop and social host laws allow accident victims to maximize compensation in drunk driving crashes. While these laws do not apply to all drunk driving accidents, these are important avenues that your San Diego car accident lawyer can explore.

To get more information about legal matters involving dram shops and social hosts, request a free case evaluation today.


Driving on a San Diego street at nighttime

Other Potential Liable Parties in a DUI Accident Case

Car accidents can be quite complicated, with multiple parties potentially liable for the cause if a crash and the injuries experienced by accident victims. When pursuing a civil action, your car accident lawyer may file a claim against multiple third parties when warranted.

Below are just a few examples of when other parties may be held liable for what happened in a drunk driving accident.

Other Motorists Involved in a Multi-Car DUI Wreck

Sometimes the injuries or vehicle damage in a drunk driving collision are worse because of the negligence of another driver.

For example, say that you are driving on Interstate 8. The driver in the lane next to you is drunk but staying in his lane. Say that there is a reckless Uber or Lyft driver who is speeding and weaving in and out of highway traffic. The rideshare driver suddenly cuts off the drunk driver, causing the drunk driver to sideswipe your car. In this case, the reckless Uber/Lyft driver could be held liable for causing the collision.

Automakers Responsible for Vehicle or Part Defects

In these situations, some problem with your vehicle or the drunk driver’s vehicle was a contributing factor to a crash. In these cases, the maker of the vehicle or defective part could be held liable.

For example, say that a drunk driver ran a red light at an intersection and struck your vehicle in a t-bone accident. The accident investigation reveals that the reason the drunk driver ran the red light is because their brakes failed. Properly functioning brakes could have prevented the crash or mitigated some of the damage in the accident. In such an instance, the maker of the vehicle could also be held liable for the auto accident.

Local Municipalities for Dangerous Road Conditions

When road authorities in San Diego County fail to ensure safe road conditions, they may contribute to a crash. As with San Diego sidewalk injuries due to poor maintenance and repair, it is possible to sue the city for causing dangerous driving conditions.

For example, say that road and highway authorities have neglected to paint/re-paint lane or intersection lines on road, which would make conditions safer for drivers at night. Or say that the same government agencies have neglected to clear away branches or tree limbs that obscure stop signs and other road signs. These could contribute to unsafe conditions that lead to a crash.

Important to Note: Pure Comparative Negligence in California

Keep in mind that California is a pure comparative negligence state, also known as pure comparative fault. That means that you can still sue a liable party for damages even if you are partly at fault for an accident.

If you are partially at fault for an accident, the percentage of your liability will be subtracted from the total amount of legal damages you receive.

So I Can Still Seek Damages Even If I Am Partially at Fault for a Crash?

Yes, though it's imperative that you have a competent San Diego car accident attorney on your side. Your lawyer can present the facts of the case and supporting evidence to help maximize your damages and reduce your overall liability in the eyes of a jury.

I can connect you with a skilled San Diego personal injury attorney who will be a strong advocate for you.


Man with a sore neck after a car crash checking his phone to call 911

Damages in Drunk Driving Crash Lawsuits

Much like any personal injury case, you can seek damages for any losses that were caused by the drunk driving accident. This includes compensation for:

  • Emergency medical care
  • Vehicle damage and repairs
  • Other property damage from the crash
  • Further physical rehabilitation or medical bills
  • Counseling and mental health services
  • Lost wages due to recovery from injuries
  • Loss of earning potential due to lasting injuries or disability
  • Changes to mobility and quality of life

Your personal injury attorney can review any bills or receipts you have in order to calculate the total amount you can seek through civil litigation.

Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

If you lost a loved one in a fatal drunk driving crash, my San Diego law office can connect you with a wrongful death lawyer. The damages sought in a wrongful death lawsuit can cover medical expenses prior to the death of your loved one, property damage from the crash, funeral expenses, lost earnings from your loved one, and the emotional pain and suffering of bereavement.

How a San Diego Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You

If you were hit by a drunk driver, I can connect you with a San Diego personal injury lawyer free of charge. Your injury attorney can help you negotiate a fair settlement or bring your case to trial to seek legal damages.

There are three key benefits to contacting me for an evaluation of your personal injury claim.

Free Case Evaluation to Connect You with an Attorney

Other San Diego law firms charge people a fee just to meet for an initial consult.

At my legal practice, your first consultation is complimentary. You do not have to pay anything to discuss your case with a qualified attorney. There is no pressure or obligation to simply talk with a lawyer and receive counsel on your next steps.

You Pay Nothing Unless Your Personal Injury Lawyer Wins

After hiring a lawyer, some San Diego law firms will make clients pay a retainer for legal services as well as hourly attorney fees. Given how long some cases can take, the costs can become overwhelming.

When I connect you with a personal injury lawyer, your attorney will work on a contingency fee basis. This means they will only get paid if they can settle your case out of court or win damages in a jury trial.

Leveraging Legal Knowledge to Your Advantage

Your San Diego accident victim lawyer will use their years in legal practice to your advantage. They will not be intimidated by insurance companies while evaluating settlement offers or by the legal representation hired by the drunk driver.

As diligent advocates for crash survivors and the loved ones of those fatally injured in DUI crashes, your car accident lawyer will work tirelessly to hold the negligent party accountable.

Find a Skilled DUI Accident Lawyer
Request a Free Case Review

If you were seriously injured in a crash with a drunk driver, I can help evaluate your case and let you know if you have civil lawsuit worth pursuing. To request a free case evaluation, contact my San Diego legal office.



Charles T. Hoge

About Charles T. Hoge
Charles T. Hoge has practiced law since 1983. He opened his own firm in Downtown La Jolla in 2016. The Hoge Law Firm has been recognized by both U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers as a leading practice for commercial litigation and employment law.

Read Mr. Hoge's Full Bio | All Posts by Mr. Hoge

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