A Monticello man told state troopers that Jesus would revive his dead infant if he got drunk and crashed head-on into another vehicle.
Witnesses say the man was driving “recklessly” before he crossed from the westbound to the eastbound side and smashed into an oncoming Ford Focus. That driver was declared dead at the scene. Authorities apprehended the other driver, who fled the scene on foot, a short time later at a local hospital emergency room. The man told investigators that he had been driving with a deceased 7-month-old infant in his lap because, according to the citation, “Jesus told him if he would hit the oncoming car, the 7 month old would be brought back to life and things would be better.”
The driver failed field sobriety tests and also failed a blood test. He now faces several criminal charges, including murder, DUI-collision, leaving the scene of an accident, and wanton endangerment.
The Last Clear Chance Defense
Desperate people do desperate things. The sudden loss of an infant is enough to convince almost anyone to commit a desperate act. But the “why” is largely irrelevant in a negligence case. The “how” is all that really matters. Your claim for damages is based on conduct, not on intentions.
So, the Jesus-told-me-to-do-it defense does not hold up in court. Neither does the-devil-made-me-do-it defense or any other such argument. The last clear chance defense, which pre-dates the automobile by almost a hundred years, is another story.
In 1842, an English court decided a case called Davies v. Mann. The plaintiff left his donkey on the side of the road. So, the plaintiff was clearly in the wrong. However, according to the court, the defendant, who was driving his wagon at “what a witness termed a smartish pace, ran against the ass, knocked it down, and the wheels passing over it, it died soon after.” Since the defendant failed to avoid the accident, which the duty of care requires, the defendant was liable for the crash, even though the defendant did nothing wrong.
It’s significant that this defense pre-dates the automobile. This defense does not translate well to motor vehicle crashes. Even at a “smartish pace,” a wagon did not move much faster than 20mph. When the driver said whoa, the wagon stopped almost on a dime. Therefore, it was fairly easy to avoid a crash.
Motor vehicles are different. At 60mph, most vehicles travel about eighteen car lengths after the driver says whoa (applies the brakes). Stopping suddenly might cause the driver to lose control. As a result, the sudden maneuver could cause a worse crash than the one it prevented.
In the above case, insurance company lawyers could argue that the victim had the last clear chance to avoid the tortfeasor (negligent driver). But according to witnesses, the tortfeasor was driving erratically before the wreck. That erratic operation, combined with the speed of his vehicle, made it almost impossible to brace for impact, much less avoid the crash.
First Party Liability
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before defenses come into play, a Lexington personal injury attorney must make a prima facie negligence case. This case usually involves either ordinary negligence or the negligence per se rule. Alcohol-involved wrecks are an excellent illustration of the difference between these two doctrines.
Alcohol impairment begins at the first drink. This impairment includes clouded judgement and slow reflexes. So, alcohol-impaired drivers take additional risks and are less able to respond to changing situations. Evidence of alcohol impairment includes:
Physical symptoms, like bloodshot eyes,
Tortfeasor’s statements about alcohol consumption,
An open container in the vehicle, and
The tortfeasor’s departure point.
If someone was recently at a bar or another place which served alcohol, it’s more likely than not that the person consumed at least one drink there. More likely than not, or a preponderance of the evidence, is the burden of proof in civil court.
Negligence per se is the violation of a safety law, which in this case is the DUI law. Since laws like these establish the standard of care, tortfeasors who violate such laws and cause crashes could be responsible for damages as a matter of law.
DUI-collision cases are difficult to prove in criminal court. Unless the defendant admitted s/he was driving, it’s hard to place the defendant behind the wheel. Once again, the lower burden of proof comes into play. It’s more likely than not that a given occupant of a car was also the driver, unless there were more than two or three occupants.
Car crash victims usually have multiple legal options. 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 insurance or money.