Drunk Driver Charged in Death of UK Student

by | Dec 10, 2021 | Car Accidents

A man who killed a sophomore at the University of Kentucky in a head-on wreck had a BAC that was well above the legal limit, according to police.

The wreck happened in late November 2021 near the intersection of North Hurstbourne Parkway and LaGrange Road. According to police, a 27-year-old man crossed the center line and smacked into another car. Three people inside the other vehicle were rushed to a nearby hospital. The above-mentioned young man did not survive.

A subsequent blood test indicated that the 27-year-old man’s BAC level was 0.14, which is not quite twice the legal limit in Kentucky.

Criminal and Civil Court

Adverse chemical test results do not always mean convictions in criminal court. But they do almost always mean liability findings in civil court. The burden of proof is dramatically different in these two forums.

Prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the highest burden of proof in Kentucky law.

Like all other machines, a Breathalyzer is not completely reliable. In fact, today’s Breathalyzer is only an updated version of the 1920s Drunk-O-Meter. Both gadgets use breath alcohol content to estimate blood alcohol content. So, the Breathalyzer has a number of flaws.

Mouth alcohol is a good example. If the subject belches, vomits, or burps before the test, mouth alcohol particles from the stomach flood the mouth. As a result, the Breathalyzer’s BAC estimate could be artificially high.

On a related note, there is a myth that sucking on a penny lowers breath alcohol levels. “If you’ve been drinkin’ suck on Lincoln.” This myth is based on fact. Copper reacts with alcohol and lowers the number of alcohol particles in the breath. 

But pennies only have a minute amount of copper. To realize this effect, the subject would need a mouthful of pennies. Most police officers would smell something fishy if that happened.

Civil court is much different. The burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Something like an elevated mouth alcohol level could give a juror a reasonable doubt about this evidence. But regardless of its flaws, a Breathalyzer is correct, more likely than not.

First Party Liability in Alcohol-Related Wrecks

This discussion matters a great deal to a Lexington personal injury lawyer, largely because of the negligence per se rule. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) who are charged with crimes could be liable for damages as a matter of law, if the legal violation caused injury.

Breathalyzer test results don’t always hold up in criminal court. The mouth alcohol defense is just one of many. However, for civil liability purposes, the negligence per se rule applies even if the tortfeasor “beats” the DUI or other criminal case in court.

However, the negligence per se rule does not apply in many drunk driver-related wrecks. Most people are intoxicated after three or four drinks. But alcohol impairment begins with the first drink

This impairment includes slow reflexes and an artificial sense of euphoria. So, when alcohol-impaired individuals get behind the wheel, they are less able to control their vehicles. Furthermore, they often take unnecessary chances. Either condition significantly raises the risk of a crash. The combination of both is even more dangerous.

Alcohol impairment violates the duty of reasonable care. This duty requires motorists to be at their best, physically, mentally, and otherwise, when they drive. Circumstantial evidence of impairment includes:

  • Physical symptoms, like bloodshot eyes and unsteady balance,
  • Erratic driving before the wreck,
  • Statements the tortfeasor made about alcohol consumption, and
  • Tortfeasor’s previous schedule (i.e. was s/he recently at a place where alcohol was served).

Some of this evidence is relevant to prove vicarious liability, or third party liability, in Kentucky. More on that below.

Damages in an alcohol-related wreck usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages might be available as well, in some extreme instances.

Third Party Liability

The Bluegrass State has a very broad dram shop law. Kentucky Revised Statutes Section 413.241 states that commercial alcohol providers, like bars, saloons, private clubs, and restaurants, are financially responsible for damages if they serve alcohol to intoxicated persons. 

The aforementioned physical symptoms could prove intoxication at the time of sale. Remember that there’s a difference between intoxication and impairment. So, the physical symptoms must be at least moderate.

Packaged alcohol providers, like supermarkets and convenience stores, could be vicariously liable for damages as well. The dram shop law applies if an alcohol-related car wreck was a foreseeable (possible) result of the sale. Usually, it’s foreseeable that a patron will open a beer and drink it on the way home.

Non-commercial providers, like New Years Eve party hosts, could be vicariously liable for damages as well, under a theory like negligent undertaking.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. 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