Investigators believe that drugs might have been a factor in a fatal, one-car wreck on Highway 764 near Owensboro.
According to police and witnesses, 27-year-old Kristopher West, of Morgantown, ran off the road and struck a utility pole. West was rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries, along with 18-year-old Kaela Hillard, of Beaver Dam. 17-year-old Brianna Bratcher, of Bremen, died at the scene.
None of the occupants was wearing a seatbelt.
Drug Impairment Collisions
In 2016, nearly half of drivers who caused fatal accidents tested positive for drugs or alcohol. Marijuana was the leading substance. Prescription drugs, like Oxycontin and Zoloft, were a close second. Additionally, under Kentucky’s DUI law, almost any substance in your medicine cabinet, such as NyQuil and Sominex, could be an impairing drug.
In terms of vehicle collisions, drug impairment could involve ordinary negligence or the negligence per se rule.
Negligence per se is the violation of a statute. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) could be liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a safety law, like the DUI law, and
- That violation substantially causes injury.
Most criminal DUI-drug cases rest upon circumstantial evidence. Therefore, it is rather common for these defendants to “beat” these cases in criminal court. However, even if that happens, the negligence per se rule usually still applies. In a civil case, the civil jury decided all questions of fact, including guilt or innocence of DUI.
It is only illegal to operate a motor vehicle “while intoxicated,” a phrase which usually means a loss of normal physical or mental faculties. However, drug impairment usually begins with the first puff or pill. In these cases, the ordinary negligence doctrine usually applies.
Most commercial drivers in Kentucky have a duty of reasonable care. They must avoid accidents when possible and drive defensively. Most commercial drivers, such as taxi drivers and Uber drivers, have a higher duty of care.
In either case, drug impairment arguably violates the duty of reasonable care. People must be in top condition to safely operate heavy machinery, such as motor vehicles.
The Seatbelt Defense
In some states, the failure to wear a seatbelt torpedoes a claim for damages. In other states, such failure is almost completely irrelevant.
Kentucky has a limited seatbelt defense. Like almost all other jurisdictions, The Bluegrass State has a mandatory seatbelt law. But in terms of negligence claims, a seatbelt is not part of the aforementioned duty of care. So, car crash victims are not required to wear seatbelts.
However, insurance company lawyers can bring up this fact to the jury. Then, jurors can decide for themselves if:
- A breach occurred, and
- The failure to wear a seatbelt substantially caused the victim’s injuries.
To establish a breach, the insurance company must prove the seatbelt was in good, working order at the time and the victim was not wearing one at the time of the crash.
Seatbelt recalls are quite common, mostly because of defective latches. Furthermore, wear and tear affects seatbelts, just like wear and tear affects all other machines. Over time, the mechanism naturally degrades. As a result, it stops working properly or stops working altogether.
Additionally, the police accident report confirms that the victim was not wearing a seatbelt when emergency responders arrived. The police report is silent as to whether the victim was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash.
Resolving a Car Crash Claim
Most negligence claims settle out of court. A claim’s settlement value usually hinges on the relative strength of the victim/plaintiff’s case, either ordinary negligence or negligence per se, against the strength of the insurance company’s defenses, such as the seatbelt defense.
Other factors that affect settlement value include the victim/plaintiff’s motivation to settle quickly and the venue where the case is heard. Some jurors are more likely to side with insurance companies, and some are more likely to side with victims.
If the two sides cannot resolve the issues by themselves, a court-appointed mediator often steps in. This individual, who is usually an unaffiliated Lexington personal injury lawyer, reviews the documents in the case. Then, after listening to arguments from both sides, the mediator tries to facilitate a settlement.
Assuming both sides negotiate in good faith, which means they are willing to make some compromises, mediation is usually successful.
Drug-impaired drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.