Guilty Pleas in Charges Stemming from Fatal Crash

| Mar 12, 2021 | Car Accidents

A 31-year-old woman from southern Indiana pleaded guilty to several charges related to an alcohol-involved crash that killed three people.

The underlying wreck happened on Interstate 265 in Floyd County. According to investigators, Taylor was drunk at more than three times the legal limit when she struck and killed 22-year-old Leah Onstott, 21-year-old Taylor Cole and Cole’s son, Braxton. Furthermore, Cole was pregnant at the time of her death. In a plea bargain agreement, Taylor pleaded guilty to four of the seven charges pending against her.

A judge is scheduled to sentence Taylor in April 2021.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

No sum of money can make up for the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one. In fact, it’s almost offensive to put a price tag on a person’s life in this way. But money damages are the only form of compensation available. Additionally, money assuages grief in a way that few other things can.

Loss of future financial support and lost future emotional support are usually the two biggest categories in terms of wrongful death claim damages. If the victim is older, these sums are usually relatively easy to establish, based on the decedent’s past contributions in these areas.

If the victims are younger, these amounts are more difficult to establish. If the victims are children, the amounts are almost impossible to prove.

So, a Lexington personal injury attorney often partners with an accountant or other financial professional. These individuals can estimate a fair amount for things like lost future support. Accountants are rather easy to find, but accountants who can provide compelling testimony in these cases are a rare breed. Many financial professionals discuss lost human life like it was a line item on a spreadsheet. That tendency is very good in many situations, but very bad in this context.

Other wrongful death compensation categories include funeral expenses, burial expenses, and medical bills related to the decedent’s final injury or illness. Survivors are usually entitled to compensation for their own grief and suffering as well, often through an expansion of the zone of danger doctrine.

First Party Liability in Alcohol-Related Wrecks

The extended DUI crackdown, which began in the 1980s, has been very frustrating for many people. Despite new laws and new law enforcement tactics, alcohol still causes about as many fatal crashes now as it did back then.

State prosecutors are not the only people with several legal tools in these situations. Victim/plaintiffs also have multiple options in civil court. Furthermore, liability for damages is much easier to prove than DUI guilt. The burden of proof in civil claims is much lower than the burden of proof in criminal matters.

If authorities charge the tortfeasor (negligent driver) with DUI, the negligence per se doctrine usually applies. This rule holds drivers liable for damages as a matter of law if:

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

An arrest or traffic citation is usually sufficient. If the tortfeasor is convicted of the infraction in criminal court, that conviction usually seals the deal.

Many motorists are dangerously impaired, but not legally intoxicated. Impairment begins with the first drink, and intoxication usually begins after three or four drinks. Since the negligence per se shortcut is unavailable in impairment claims, victim/plaintiffs must use circumstantial evidence to establish negligence, or a lack of care. This evidence may include:

  • Erratic driving before the crash,
  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Slurred speech,
  • Slow reflexes, and
  • Odor of alcohol.

Damages in a negligence or negligence per se claim usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Third Party Liability

Bars, restaurants, and other commercial alcohol providers could be vicariously liable for car crash damages, under Kentucky’s dram shop law. These providers are in a unique position to prevent alcohol-related crashes before they happen. So, the law holds these providers to a higher standard.

Liability could attach if the provider served alcohol to a customer 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 usually admissible to prove intoxication at the time of sale. Other evidence on this point includes the number of drinks consumed at that location and statements the tortfeasor made to witnesses.

Alcohol-related wrongful death claims are among the most complex negligence cases in Kentucky. 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. #goodelawyers