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California Negligence and the Drunk Plaintiff

Most personal injury lawsuits are based on the legal theory of negligence. A person is considered negligent if he or she fails to meet the duty of reasonably prudent behavior towards another person. This can mean the negligent person took an action that could be considered negligent, like texting while driving. Or, it could mean that they negligently failed to do something that they should have done, such as cleaning up a slippery spill on the floor of their shop.

If a person is found to have been negligent, he or she will be legally liable for the other person’s injuries. This means that the negligent person will owe the injured person monetary damages to compensate for the harm that was caused.

One issue that often comes up in negligence cases is whether the injured person was negligent too and should therefore not be able to collect compensation. For instance, imagine that the injured person who fell did so because of the slippery spill left by the owner of the shop, but that the injured person had been drinking alcohol just before the time of the accident. Was the injured person to blame because he or she was intoxicated? How should this impact that person’s ability to collect compensation?

California: Comparative negligence

In some states, a person who is partially to blame for their own injury might be barred from collecting compensation, even if someone else was much more at fault. In other states, it is possible for a person to collect compensation even when they were negligent, as long as they were not 50% or 51% at fault. In California, a person can collect compensation for injuries they suffered as the result of another person’s negligence, and the damages will be reduced to reflect the amount of fault attributed to the defendant. This means that if a person’s injuries are calculated at $100,000, and the plaintiff was 60% at fault, he or she could still collect compensation for the 40% of fault attributed to the defendant. In this case, the damages would be $40,000.

Alcohol and negligence

When we drink, we can make ourselves more likely to suffer an injury, whether one of our own making or one that is caused by someone else. In the case of determining liability for negligence claims in California, drinking alcohol will not automatically mean that someone should be considered negligent. Instead, the alcohol consumption will be just one of many factors considered in determining liability and apportioning fault.

In the above example, where the plaintiff was injured after slipping on a floor, the fact that the plaintiff was drinking would be considered and weighed, but not determinative. If the fall was mostly because of the alcohol consumption, the result would be a hefty reduction of the total percent of compensation available to the plaintiff. However, it the plaintiff had not drunk very much and was not acting drunk, and it seems that the injuries could have just as likely occurred for a person who was completely sober, then the damages might not be reduced much, if at all.

If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox LLP today at 909-798-3300 for a free consultation.

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Stephen Levine, is a Board Certified Specialist in Criminal Defense — an honor achieved by only the top criminal law attorneys in California. Mr. Levine has over 40 years of experience in criminal defense and family law serving Southern California, and is a highly regarded Super Lawyer as well as AV Rated attorney.