Suspected Drunk Driver Causes Fatal Wreck in Clay County

| Jun 14, 2021 | Car Accidents

Investigators diverted traffic for more than six hours as they reconstructed a chain-reaction crash that killed one person and hospitalized four others.

Kentucky State Police arrested a 27-year-old Richmond woman after she apparently crossed from the eastbound side of Hal Rogers Parkway onto the westbound side. She hit a vehicle, which catapulted over to the eastbound side, where a third vehicle collided with it. One person was declared dead at the scene. Three other people were airlifted to a nearby hospital. Only two of them survived.

About a half-dozen government agencies are working together as the investigation continues.

Establishing Liability in Alcohol-Related Wrecks

Alcohol is a factor in about a third of the fatal car crashes in Kentucky. This high percentage often works against victims of these crashes. Jurors sometimes adopt a “here we go again” mentality which reduces compensation. More on that below.

First things first. Victims aren’t entitled to anything unless a Lexington personal injury attorney proves the tortfeasor (at-fault driver) was negligent. 

Most alcohol-involved wrecks feature the negligence per se doctrine. Tortfeasors are liable for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate safety laws, and

  • The violation substantially causes injury.

Pretty much all serious alcohol-involved wrecks include some form of DUI arrest, even if the tortfeasor’s BAC level was under the legal limit. For criminal law purposes, people are intoxicated if their BAC level is above the legal limit or they have lost the normal use of their mental or physical faculties. If the individual cannot safely operate a motor vehicle, the individual is most likely seriously impaired in one or both of these areas.

The negligence per se rule usually applies even if the tortfeasor “beats” the DUI in court. A civil jury decides all the facts in a civil case, including DUI culpability, if any.

The ordinary negligence doctrine is available as well. Essentially, ordinary negligence is a lack of care. Most noncommercial motorists have a duty of reasonable care. If the driver violated this duty and caused a crash, damages are available. Evidence of impairment usually includes:

  • Physical symptoms, like bloodshot eyes, and

  • Statements the tortfeasor made to anyone about alcohol consumption.

Victim/plaintiffs must establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. So, a little proof in this area goes a long way. For example, many things cause bloodshot eyes. But if the tortfeasor had been drinking at all, it’s more likely than not that the bloodshot eyes and alcohol consumption are related.

Circumstantial evidence is usually more relevant in a third-party liability claim. Restaurants, bars, and other commercial alcohol providers are financially responsible for car wreck damages if they sold alcohol to a customer and a “reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances should know that the person served is already intoxicated at the time of serving.”

Generally, the dram shop law applies to commercial establishments which serve ready-to-drink alcohol. Foreseeability, a legal term which basically means “possibility,” is harder to prove in grocery stores, convenience stores, and other packaged alcohol vendors. Usually, a store employee must have seen the tortfeasor get out of the car and/or drive away.

Sealing the Deal in an Alcohol-Related Crash Claim

So, establishing liability is usually not a problem in an alcohol-related wreck. Most tortfeasors are liable under the negligence per se rule, and it’s relatively easy to establish third-party liability, mostly because of the low burden of proof.

Obtaining maximum compensation is another matter. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Usually, evidence is more important in the liability portion of a trial than in the damages portion. Alcohol-related wrecks often work the opposite way.

To address the attitude of “just another drunk driver on the road,” a Lexington personal injury lawyer must show jurors how bad the wreck was. Frequently, this showing involves a combination of the Event Data Recorder and an accident reconstruction expert.

Almost every passenger vehicle on the road has an EDR. Exact capacity varies by make and model. But most of these gadgets measure and record things like:

  • Steering angle,

  • Vehicle speed,

  • Brake application, and

  • Engine RPM.

Electronic evidence, like EDR information, is usually very effective in court. It is hard for insurance company lawyers to undermine and tech-savvy Fayette County jurors often give it more weight than eyewitness testimony or other evidence.

Bits of EDR data are almost like blotches of color on a painter’s palette. Unless someone like an accident reconstruction engineer paints a picture, the blotches don’t mean much. These professionals often use EDR information to create an animated 3-D rendering of the accident.

Crash victims are entitled to fair compensation for their 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 these matters. #goodelawyers