According to investigators, a drunk driver was on the wrong side of Interstate 75 when he slammed into another vehicle, killing all three people inside it.
The wreck happened near Exit 35. According to investigators, a 21-year-old man was intoxicated as he drove his truck northbound on the southbound side. All three people in the other vehicle were killed almost instantly.
The pickup truck driver was released from the hospital after receiving treatment for minor injuries and has since been booked into the Laurel County Correctional Center on three counts of murder.
Liability in Drunk Driving Accidents
A long-term drunk driver crackdown, which began in the 1990s, has resulted in a lot of drunk driving arrests. In some jurisdictions, about half the probationers were convicted of DUI or a similar offense. However, the crackdown hasn’t significantly reduced the number of fatal alcohol-related collisions. Obviously, driver habits are a lot harder to change than criminal laws and procedures.
A Lexington personal injury attorney cannot turn back the hands of time and reverse what’s happened. However, an attorney can obtain maximum compensation for victims and survivors in court. After a tragic crash, the best anyone can do is move on.
Legally, victims and survivors in these cases have several legal options, usually depending on the facts of the case.
Frequently, the negligence per se shortcut applies in these cases. As mentioned, peace officers are very aggressive in this area. In fact, most agencies have mandatory DUI arrest policies. If there’s probable cause to believe a motorist was intoxicated, officers must arrest the driver. When DUI arrest cases go to civil court, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) could be responsible for damages as a matter of law if:
- The tortfeasor violated a safety law, like the DUI law, and
- That violation substantially caused injury.
Usually, that first bullet point is the problematic one. Even if drivers clearly violate safety laws, and even if the crash kills someone, officers often don’t issue citations. Many officers view car wrecks as civil matters that insurance companies and Lexington personal injury lawyers must resolve among themselves.
In some cases, the second bullet point looms large. Sometimes, there’s not a sufficient connection between the violation and the wreck. More on that below.
If negligence per se is unavailable, for whatever reason, the ordinary negligence doctrine is available. Evidence of alcohol impairment in non-DUI cases includes:
- Previous stops at places that served alcohol,
- Erratic driving prior to the wreck,
- Bloodshot eyes and other physical symptoms, and
- Statements the tortfeasor made about alcohol consumption.
The burden of proof in a civil claim is only a preponderance of the proof (more likely than not). So, a little evidence goes a long way.
This same evidence, especially previous stops, could establish vicarious liability. Bars, restaurants, and other commercial providers are financially responsible for damages if they knowingly serve an intoxicated individual who later causes a car wreck.
Vicarious liability is an important tool in terms of obtaining justice. Commercial providers could stop crashes before they happen, simply by refusing to serve intoxicated individuals. Legal actions encourage these providers to change the way they do business and prioritize public safety above their own bottom lines.
Immediately following wrong-way wrecks, emergency responders and insurance adjusters almost always assign fault to the wrong-way driver. After all , the evidence at the scene, which is the only evidence available at that time, clearly points in that direction.
However, the difference between fault for a collision and liability for damages is like the difference between a first quarter score and a final score. Additional evidence, like video camera surveillance footage, comes to light later. More importantly for purposes of this article, legal issues, such as the last clear chance doctrine, come into play as well.
Assume Ben had been driving on the wrong side of a straight and level road, which has little traffic, for about a half mile, when he hit Jerry. Under these circumstances, Jerry probably had a good opportunity to avoid the wreck, perhaps by changing lanes or speeds. Because he had the last clear chance to avoid the wreck, he’s legally responsible for damages, although he did nothing wrong.
There’s a difference between the last clear chance and any possible chance. Sometimes, these wrecks happen so fast, or the road is so clogged, that a driver cannot make evasive maneuvers without causing another wreck.
So, in the above case, the drunk driver might, or might not have been, legally responsible for the wrong-way wreck. More facts are needed to determine liability.
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 routinely handle matters in Fayette County and nearby jurisdictions.