Vol. 21 No. 3- Cost Recovery Of Expenses Responding To Dui Incidents

Cost Recovery of Expenses Responding to DUI Incidents

February 14, 2006

On January 4, 2006, the California Court of Appeal clarified what expenses can be recovered as a result of emergency responses to incidents caused by individuals operating motor vehicles while under the influence of an intoxicant. In the case of California Highway Patrol v. Superior Court of Alameda County (Allende), 2006 Cal.App. LEXIS 3, the Court of Appeal ruled that public agencies are entitled to recover emergency response expenses, pursuant to Government Code §§53150 through 53159, from persons who intentionally or negligently cause incidents requiring such response. The Court stated that “we must first determine what constitutes an incident under §53150, triggering a public agency’s right to seek reimbursement.”

The Court points out that, although an accident need not occur in order for the incident to trigger an emergency response, the mere stopping of a driver operating under the influence does not qualify as an incident. “Nowhere in the statute is the term ‘incident’ defined . . . however, ‘incident’ necessarily means something more than the negligent operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant.”

The Court states that if the legislature had intended to allow for recovery of costs merely for stopping a person driving under the influence, it would have so stated. “Regardless of how one defines ‘incident,’ the term is followed by language limiting the incidents for which costs may be recovered to those ‘resulting in an appropriate emergency response.’ It would be highly strained to consider stopping a motorist for driving under the influence, without more, as an ’emergency’ within the meaning of §53150.”

The Court reiterates that an incident or an event which does not involve an accident can still require an emergency response and, therefore, qualify for reimbursement of expenses incurred. “Situations such as the abandonment of a vehicle on railroad tracks, unlike a traffic stop or an arrest at a DUI checkpoint, may involve an emergency response to prevent harm to persons or property and require more of a peace officer’s time and attention than the typical enforcement of the DUI laws.”

The question then arises exactly what costs can be recovered by the public agency in responding to an incident caused by an intoxicated driver? The Court very clearly responds to that question: “An appropriate emergency response to an incident includes the cost of providing police services at the scene, including, among other possible items, salary costs related to insuring public safety at the scene of the incident, obtaining appropriate medical assistance, removing vehicles, investigating the cause of the incident, conducting field sobriety tests and, if appropriate, arresting and detaining the subject.”

The Court goes on to state:

“Reimbursement may also be obtained for time spent away from the scene by responding public agency personnel, provided the response is reasonable and arises from the incident. Thus, for example, salary costs may be recovered for time spent traveling to and from the scene, transporting the subject from the scene, booking the subject, performing chemical tests, writing customarily required reports (including all accident and DUI related reports that must be completed as a consequence of the incident), and performing follow-up investigation necessary to complete the reports. All of these activities directly arise because of the response to the incident, and must be performed regardless of whether there is a prosecution for a violation of the DUI laws.”


This case provides a great deal to public agencies in their efforts to recover the costs incurred as a result of incidents arising out of people driving while intoxicated. Even the definition of the term “incident” is beneficial to the public agency, although it does not incorporate merely stopping and arresting an individual for driving under the influence. (It should be noted that the California Police Chiefs’ Association has authorized its lobbyist, John Lovell, and myself as General Counsel to CPCA, to determine if there is a possibility of amending the law which would permit recovery even if there was no “incident” beyond the mere stopping of an intoxicated driver.) Nonetheless, at the present time, the Court of Appeal has stated that “an incident is any event that proximately causes an emergency response by a public agency” and “an ordinary arrest, even for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, is not sufficient.”

Implementing the use of Government Code §53150, et seq., and seeking reimbursement for these expenses will, at the very least, offset the costs incurred by public agencies as a result of an incident arising out of drunk driving. Additionally, it is one more reason why one might reconsider driving under the influence – the financial cost between fines, forfeitures, DUI schools and, now, reimbursement for these expenses is getting to be a very significant financial outlay. Hopefully, it will continue to reduce the numbers of people who drive under the influence.

As always, we urge that you confer with your department’s legal counsel before implementing any changes to your current policies or procedures. Should you wish to discuss this matter in greater detail, please feel free to contact me by telephone at 714- 446-1400 or by e-mail atmjm@jones-mayer.com.