The Five Kinds of Driver Impairment

| Oct 16, 2020 | Car Accidents, Injuries

Human error causes over 90 percent of the car crashes in Kentucky. Sometimes, this error involves an operational mistake, like speeding or making an illegal turn. Frequently, however, as outlined below, the error occurred before the tortfeasor (negligent driver) got behind the wheel.

Many tortfeasors know they are dangerously impaired, yet they decide to drive anyway. As a result, a Lexington personal injury attorney is usually able to obtain substantial compensation in these claims. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are often available as well, in extreme cases.

Alcohol

This substance is a depressant which clouds judgement ability and slows motor skills. Therefore, alcohol is a factor in about a third of the fatal car wrecks in Kentucky. The proportion is usually higher in more rural areas of the state, where the speed limits are higher and the nearest trauma center is further away.

Evidence of liability could be direct or circumstantial. If the tortfeasor was charged with DUI, the tortfeasor might be liable for damages as a matter of law. The negligence per se doctrine usually applies even if the tortfeasor “beats” the DUI in criminal court. Circumstantial evidence of impairment usually includes the tortfeasor’s physical symptoms, such as:

  • Erratic driving prior to the crash,
  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Unsteady balance,
  • Slurred speech, and
  • Tortfeasor’s statements about prior alcohol consumption.

In a circumstantial evidence claim, the victim/plaintiff must establish negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Third party liability is also a possibility in these cases. Kentucky’s dram shop law normally holds restaurants, bars, and other commercial alcohol providers financially responsible for alcohol-related crash damages. Vicarious liability gives victim/plaintiffs an additional source of recovery if, as is often the case, the tortfeasor is uninsured or underinsured.

Fatigue

Drowsiness and alcohol have a lot in common. For example, they both impair judgement abilities and motor skills. IN fact, driving after eighteen hours without sleep is like driving with a .05 BAC level. Many people would never think about drinking and driving. But they would not think twice about driving home after a long day at the office. As far as driving ability is concerned, these two activities are the same thing.

Furthermore, there is no shortcut in either situation. Only time cures alcohol impairment, and only sleep cures fatigue. A quick ten-minute nap often makes a tremendous difference. On the other hand, rolling down the windows, blaring the radio, and other shortcuts usually have little or no positive effect.

Truck drivers must adhere to HOS (Hours of Service) rules. So, fatigued drivers might be liable for damages as a matter of law. If the fatigued driver was a noncommercial operator, the ordinary negligence doctrine is available.

Incidentally, if a truck driver causes a crash, the respondeat superior rule usually applies. This legal doctrine holds shipping and transportation companies financially responsible for the negligence of their drivers.

Drugs

In many cases, the number of “stoned” drivers outnumbers the number of “drunk” drivers. Marijuana is the most common culprit, followed closely by Oxycontin, Zoloft, and other such prescription drugs. Street drugs, like heroin and cocaine, are often an issue as well.

The same legal issues apply as well, at least in terms of first party liability. If the tortfeasor is prosecuted under the DUI-drug law, the tortfeasor might be liable for damages as a matter of law. Furthermore, one pill or puff is usually enough to cause dangerous impairment. So, circumstantial evidence is admissible as well.

Drug impairment claims occasionally involve third party liability. For example, many doctors write pain pill prescriptions and do not ask many questions. However, all negligence elements, especially foreseeability, are often difficult to prove in these cases.

Medical Condition

Many Kentucky drivers struggle with serious chronic medical conditions that could cause a sudden loss of consciousness. Some examples include:

  • Epilepsy,
  • Diabetes,
  • Heart disease,
  • Vasovagal Syncope (fainting syndrome), and
  • Narcolepsy.

Normally, the state suspends drivers’ licenses if it receives evidence of such a diagnosis. But that suspension does not always happen, and even if it does, the action is not permanent. Nevertheless, during this brief window, the negligence per se rule could apply, because the tortfeasor’s license is invalid. 

In other situations, Lexington personal injury attorneys can use the ordinary negligence doctrine. Driving with a known serious medical condition clearly demonstrates a lack of reasonable care.

Distraction

Kentucky lawmakers recently approved a hands-free law, which goes into effect in 2021. But this law has a number of loopholes. Additionally, it does not forbid all forms of distracted driving, such as using a hands-free device while driving or eating while driving. So, depending on the facts, either the ordinary negligence doctrine or the negligence per se rule is available in these situations.

Impaired motorists often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.