Charges are pending against a man who was allegedly under the influence of drugs and talking on a cell phone when he smacked into a passenger car, killing two people.
This wreck occurred in Scott County near Exit 69. According to investigators, traffic slowed on I-64 due to an earlier collision. Evan Barnett, who was driving a box truck, failed to slow down and he rear-ended a passenger vehicle. Both occupants were declared dead at the scene. Subsequent investigation determined that Barnett was using a hand-held cell phone and was under the influence of drugs. Toxicology test results are pending.
Authorities booked Barnett into the county jail, where he faces two second-degree manslaughter charges.
Even though marijuana is still fully illegal in Kentucky, much of weed’s social stigma is gone. Therefore, the number of marijuana drugged driving incidents has increased significantly. Prescription painkillers, like Oxycontin and Vicodin, also cause a number of drugged driving crashes. So do some over-the-counter medicines, such as NyQuill and Sominex.
Victim/plaintiffs often use circumstantial evidence to establish ordinary negligence due to drug impairment. Such evidence includes:
- Current prescriptions,
- Open pill bottles in the vehicle,
- Glassy eyes,
- Erratic driving, and
- Statements about drug use.
In areas like these, victim/plaintiffs must establish facts by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Picture two equally-sized stacks of paper sitting side by side. If someone moves one sheet from the left to the right, the stack on the right is higher than the one on the left. That’s a picture of a preponderance of the evidence.
Furthermore, drugged driving often violates Kentucky’s DUI law. If the negligent driver was charged with DUI, the negligence per se doctrine usually applies. Drivers could be responsible for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate safety laws, and
- That violation substantially causes injury.
Sometimes, negligence per se is only a presumption of liability. Victim/plaintiffs must introduce additional evidence to obtain compensation.
This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
In the above case, Barnett’s charges might or might not include a DUI case. So, either ordinary negligence or negligence per se might apply.
These same two legal theories apply in these distracted driving cases. Kentucky only has a limited cell phone ban.
HB 415 bans texting while driving. “Texting” means sending or reviewing any text-based communication, such as text messages, emails, and social media posts. “Driving” means the vehicle must be in motion.
So, it is legal to text at stoplights or while idling in traffic. It’s also legal to take pictures, surf the web, use a GPS navigator, watch videos, and do pretty much anything else on a cell phone, whether or not the vehicle is in motion.
Because the Kentucky ban is so narrow, victim/plaintiffs generally must use circumstantial evidence to establish a lack of care. This evidence revolves around the three types of distraction, which are:
- Manual (taking one’s hand off the wheel),
- Visual (taking one’s eyes off the road), and
- Cognitive (taking one’s mind off driving).
In device distraction claims, this evidence usually includes things like web browsing logs and text message records. Unless a Lexington personal injury lawyer works quickly to preserve this evidence, the defendant might “accidentally” destroy it.
As mentioned, tortfeasors who violate the cell phone ban and cause crashes might be liable for damages as a matter of law. In the above case, it’s unclear what Barnett was doing on his phone. So, it’s not clear which theory would apply.
Additionally, since Barnett was driving a box truck, his employer might be financially responsible for the aforementioned damages. The respondeat superior rule applies if an employee is negligent during the course of employment. Kentucky law defines all these key words and phrases in broad, victim-friendly ways.
Vehicle collision victims typically have several legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.