Legal Options in Substance-Related Crash Claims

On Behalf of | Aug 17, 2020 | Car Accidents

Alcohol and/or drug impairment or intoxication is a factor in almost half of the fatal vehicle collisions in Fayette County. These substances give people an artificial sense of euphoria, so they often take too many chances behind the wheel. Furthermore, these substances impair motor skills.

Drugs and alcohol might or might not be legal to take. However, it is always unsafe and illegal to operate heavy machinery, including a motor vehicle, while under their influence.

Because of these dangers, a Lexington personal injury attorney can usually obtain substantial compensation in these cases. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available in extreme cases, such as a very high BAC level.

Ordinary Negligence

Essentially, ordinary negligence is a lack of care. Most noncommercial drivers have a duty of reasonable care. They must drive defensively, avoid accidents when possible, and obey the rules of the road. Most commercial operators, like Uber drivers, have a higher duty of care. They are practically insurers of safe conduct from Point A to Point B.

Substance use impairs motorists. This impairment usually begins with the first sip of alcohol, first pill, or first puff. Circumstantial evidence of impairment includes:

  • Erratic driving before the crash,
  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Unsteady balance,
  • Open pill containers in the passenger area,
  • Recent prescriptions or drug purchases,
  • Odor of alcohol,
  • Fuzzy memory, and
  • Statements the tortfeasor (negligent driver) made about alcohol or drug use.

The burden of proof in civil court is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, although this evidence is highly circumstantial, it is also highly compelling in most cases.

For example, many things other than alcohol might cause bloodshot eyes. But generally, it is more likely than not that alcohol consumption caused this condition.

Negligence Per Se

Frequently, the law establishes the standard of care. Once again, this standard is different for different drivers. For noncommercial drivers, this standard of care in a BAC level above .08 or a loss of mental or physical faculties. For commercial drivers, the standard is usually a .04 BAC level or a loss of faculties.

If the tortfeasor was charged with DUI, the negligence per se shortcut might apply. Tortfeasors are generally liable for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate a safety law, and
  • That violation substantially causes injury.

Normally, the negligence per se doctrine applies even if the tortfeasor “beats” the DUI in criminal court. Civil jurors determine all the facts in a civil case, including guilt or innocence of a DUI.

Generally, DUI-related crashes have a high settlement value. These tortfeasors arguably knew they were too drunk to drive. So, by getting behind the wheel, they intentionally disregarded a known risk, at least arguably.

Other factors which affect the settlement value include the amount of evidence in the case, the relative motivation of the parties to settle the claim, and the probable makeup of the jury. The settlement value is an important metric. Most vehicle collision claims settle out of court.

Third Party Liability

Tortfeasors always acquired drugs or alcohol from somewhere, and frequently, that “somewhere” is a commercial alcohol or drug provider. In the late 1980s, Kentucky lawmakers approved a dram shop law. This provision holds bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and other commercial providers liable for car crash damages if “a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances should know that the person served is already intoxicated at the time of serving.”

The aforementioned circumstantial evidence is also admissible to prove intoxication at the time of sale.

Foreseeability is sometimes an issue in dram shop claims. It is normally, but not always, foreseeable that a person drove to the commercial establishment and will also drive home.

Social hosts, like party hosts, are not subject to dram shop liability. However, these individuals might be vicariously liable for car crash damages under another theory, such as negligent undertaking.

Substance-related crashes often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.