Appellate Court Refuses to Apply Heightened Standard to Designated Driver in Drunk Driving Accident Case

Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in an interesting car accident case involving the applicable standard to apply to a designated driver’s conduct in a lawsuit brought against the designated driver by an intoxicated passenger. This case is important for Maryland car accident victims because this is a relatively new legal issue that Maryland courts have yet to address.

The Fact of the Case

The plaintiff was at a party with several friends, when the group decided to leave and head back to one of their apartments. The one sober person in the group volunteered to drive. At some point in the trip back to the apartment, two of the passengers climbed on the trunk of the car. The driver told them several times to get back inside the car, but the two insisted that they wanted to ride on the trunk. The driver continued to head toward the apartment, traveling at 15 miles per hour, slowing down for curves, and checking on the two every 30 seconds through the rear-view mirror.

When the car was nearing the apartment complex, the front-seat passenger pushed the driver’s right leg down, causing her foot to step on the accelerator. The car sped up, and the two people sitting on the trunk fell off. One of the passengers who fell off the trunk filed a claim with their insurance company under the underinsured motorist provision. The company denied the claim, and the injured passenger filed a personal injury claim in hopes of compelling the insurance company to pay out on the claim.

The trial court found that the driver was 55% liable and held that the insurance company should have paid out on the claim. The insurance company appealed, arguing that the court applied a heightened standard to the designated driver’s conduct, which was improper under the law.

The appellate court agreed and reversed the lower court’s apportionment of liability. The appellate court explained that, while the lower court claimed to have not applied a heightened standard to the designated driver’s conduct, the court’s reasoning indicated that was not the case. For example, the lower court provided several reasons for its finding, including that:

  • The driver “volunteered to be the designated driver”;
  • “She understood her role was to get her intoxicated friends home safely”;
  • “She was the only sober person in the group and had the greatest ability to assess danger”; and
  • She failed to take adequate measures to stop the front-seat passenger from interfering with her control of the vehicle.

These reasons, the appellate court held, showed that the lower court did indeed apply a heightened standard to the designated driver’s conduct. As a result, the case was remanded back to the lower court so that it could re-apportion the fault among the parties.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland drunk driving accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated Maryland personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have developed a strong reputation in and around the Washington, D.C. area for aggressive representation of accident victims. With thousands of satisfied clients over decades of practice, we understand what it takes to be successful in courts across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Recent Case Finds Hotel Was Not Liable for Poolside Accident Caused by Drunk Driver, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published August 2, 2017.

Insurance Company Permitted to Question Accident Victims Under Oath Prior to Approval of Claim, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published September 4, 2017.

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