Toxicology reports are pending on a woman who was killed in a ping-pong accident on Highway 27.
Authorities state that a 43-year-old Nicholasville woman was southbound on Highway 27 when she sideswiped another southbound vehicle. The force of that impact propelled her vehicle onto the northbound side, where she collided with an oncoming vehicle almost head-on. No one in the first vehicle was hurt, but four people in the second vehicle were rushed to area hospitals in serious condition.
The woman, who was a mother of three, died at the scene.
Establishing First Party Liability in Alcohol Impairment Crashes
Before the late twentieth century, DUI was little more than a speeding ticket. Then, an intense crackdown began. This crackdown included sweeping new law enforcement tools, like roadside checkpoints, and tough new laws, like a lower BAC limit. Yet despite all these efforts, alcohol still causes almost a third of the fatal vehicle collisions in Kentucky. That’s basically the same proportion which existed prior to the crackdown.
So, it is easier to establish guilt in criminal court. Rather similarly, there are also several ways a Lexington personal injury attorney can obtain fair compensation in civil court. The lower burden of proof in civil court (more likely than not as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt) makes many of these methods possible.
Frequently, direct evidence is available, in the form of a DUI arrest. Since this law establishes the standard of care for drivers, if motorists break this law, they could be liable for damages as a matter of law. This doctrine, which is called negligence per se, usually applies even if the tortfeasor (negligent driver) beats the criminal charges in court. A civil jury determines all the facts in a civil case.
Most people are legally intoxicated after they have three or four drinks. But alcohol’s impairing effects begin at the first drink. These impairing effects include distorted judgement and slow motor skills. Evidence of alcohol impairment at the time of the crash includes:
- Erratic Driving: Impaired judgement and motor skills usually means impaired driving as soon as the tortfeasor pulls out of the parking lot. Frequently, attorneys review surveillance camera footage from nearby locations to obtain evidence of prior erratic driving.
- Physical Symptoms: Bloodshot eyes, unsteady balance, an odor of alcohol, and slurred speech are the most prominent physical symptoms of alcohol consumption. Typically, people who have been drinking display at least two or three of these symptoms.
- Previous Location: If the tortfeasor previously visited a place that serves alcohol, it is more likely than not that the tortfeasor had at least one drink there. So, this evidence is almost useless in criminal court, but typically compelling in civil court.
Most of this same circumstantial evidence, albeit from a different time and place, is relevant to a third party liability determination. More on that below.
If the tortfeasor did not survive the crash, doctors usually run postmortem toxicology tests. These tests are usually quite accurate. Furthermore, the doctors who perform them have nothing to win or lose. Even a trace amount of alcohol could be enough to establish first party liability.
Procedurally, if the tortfeasor did not survive, these claims are a bit different. Instead of a normal civil court claim, an attorney might file a claim with the estate administrator. Since administrators are eager to wrap up the estate, these claims often settle quickly and on victim-friendly terms.
Third Party Liability
Dram shop laws (alcohol was once sold by the “dram” instead of by the ounce) hold restaurants, bars, private clubs, and other commercial alcohol providers vicariously liable for car crash damages. In other words, the individual is legally responsible for the wreck, and the entity which provided the alcohol is financially responsible.
Many states have limited or eliminated their dram shop laws in recent years. But Kentucky’s dram shop law is one of the broadest ones in the country. Alcohol providers are vicariously liable for damages if they serve an individual who was obviously impaired at the time, and that person subsequently caused a crash.
In addition to physical symptoms, oral statements, or the lack thereof, are also admissible. Many people admit that they have been drinking. Furthermore, many employees are supposed to ask patrons if they have had too much to drink. In this case, “don’t ask, don’t tell” usually does not hold up in court.
Compensation in alcohol-related wrecks usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Frequently, these damages are rather high in these cases. Vicarious liability gives victim/plaintiffs an additional source of recovery if the individual tortfeasor was underinsured.
Alcohol-related wrecks are typically quite complex. 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 these cases.