After a DUI Driver Kills: What Comes Next for a Victim's Family?

Posted on in Car Accidents

The Contra Costa County District Attorney's office recently announced charges against a 70-year-old man who allegedly lost control of his pick-up truck while driving drunk, hitting and killing a female pedestrian.

Ruel Sasser faces three felony charges: vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving with a blood-alcohol level above .08 and driving under the influence while causing injury.

According to, witnesses said after the crash Sasser was too drunk to stand after his vehicle jumped the curb, hit the victim and ran into a tree. His blood alcohol level was .15, almost twice the legal limit.

The victim, a 57-year-old Walnut Creek woman, was an attorney with an insurance company.

What Can Family Members Do in the Aftermath?

Grief-stricken family members of a victim like this one often struggle to come to terms with their loss. Many come to the realization that one way of achieving emotional closure is to punish the perpetrator so that he or she can not only be held responsible for their reckless behavior, but can also serve as an example to others who might be tempted to drink and drive.

Family members, including a spouse and children, can file a claim in civil court to recover compensation for the damages and loses caused by the drunk driver. A California wrongful death attorney can pursue financial compensation for the following:

  • Medical expenses incurred by the family
  • Lost wages
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering

Punitive Damages

In California, it's difficult to collect punitive damages in a wrongful death case. However, if a motor vehicle crash injury victim survives, he or she can pursue punitive or exemplary damages. These damages are designed to punish the person, who can then serve as a deterrent. Punitive damages can inflict heavy financial damage to the person responsible.

Some of the conditions that must be proven in order to recover punitive damages include:

  • The defendant voluntarily became intoxicated before knowing he or she would be driving
  • The defendant has been convicted of a felony
  • The defendant was aware of the dangerous consequences of his or her actions
  • The defendant willfully and deliberately carried out the actions despite being aware of the dangers

If someone you love has been taken from you by a drunk driver, or if you have been injured by a DUI driver, contact a California wrongful death and personal injury lawyer to assess the facts of the case and advise you of your legal options.

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