Many of my clients are shocked when they discover that they are billed for the emergency response units that are dispatched after their accident involved California DUI. The most common of responses includes, “I thought my tax dollars paid for that!” I hate to say it but, no they don’t.
California Government Code section 53150 states:
“Any person who is under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug, whose negligent operation of a motor vehicle caused by that influence proximately causes any incident resulting in an appropriate emergency response, and any person whose intentionally wrongful conduct proximately causes any incident resulting in an appropriate emergency response, is liable for the expense of an emergency response by a public agency to the incident.”
Essentially, if your California DUI resulted in an accident, you can be billed for the costs of responding emergency response units. Although a California DUI related accident is the likeliest scenario to trigger such a liability, the California Court of Appeal in the 2006 case of California Highway Patrol v. Superior Court of Alameda County (Allende) held that an accident need not occur before the city’s right to reimbursement is triggered.
And it is not cheap.
Jacob Nathaniel Felix, 19, was sentenced to about a year in jail with five years of probation for gross vehicular manslaughter. Felix admitted to drinking six beers before rolling his vehicle on the way home. His passenger, Jonathan Cuevas, who was not wearing his seatbelt, was ejected from the vehicle and killed.
Felix was released from custody after serving his sentence on April 22nd only to find out that Riverside City Attorney Greg Priamos filed a civil suit against him on April 15th for reimbursement of the emergency response costs arising from his DUI related accident.
The bill totaled $10,383.45. Felix was charged $9,794.70 for 4,758 minutes of 13 police officers’ time and $588.75 for 451 minutes of the time of nine Riverside firefighters and three fire engines.
Certainly Felix’s case is an extreme example where the concentrated use of emergency response was justified. But in cases not so severe, it makes one wonder whether the extent of the emergency response is always necessary knowing that the arrestee is one being billed.