Articles Posted in Drunk Driving Accidents

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.

Drinking and DrivingThe 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.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Florida issued a written opinion in a premises liability lawsuit that was brought by a man whose wife was killed by a drunk driver as she was sitting under a cabana at the defendant hotel’s pool. The plaintiff claimed that the hotel should have erected some sort of barrier to prevent this type of accident from occurring. However, the court ultimately dismissed his case, finding that the hotel did not have a duty to erect a barrier under the circumstances. The case might be of interest to Maryland car accident victims.

Poolside CabanaThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and his wife were visiting the defendant hotel. The couple was outside under a cabana at the hotel’s pool when a drunk driver failed to negotiate a turn in the road, jumped a curb, crashed through the fence surrounding the pool area, and collided with the cabana. As a result of the collision, the plaintiff was injured, and his pregnant wife was killed.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the hotel, claiming that it was negligent in failing to take precautions to prevent this type of accident from occurring. The plaintiff called several expert witnesses, who testified that the way the road curved next to the hotel meant that cars would be going full-speed as they were heading directly at the hotel’s pool area. Additionally, the plaintiff presented evidence that hotel management knew that motorists would often speed down the section of road adjacent to the hotel.

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When a driver drinks too much and then gets behind the wheel, they put everyone on the road at risk. It is common knowledge that anyone injured in a Washington, D.C. drunk driving accident can seek compensation for their injuries from the drunk driver. However, what is less known is that a bar, club, or restaurant that over-serves a customer to the point of intoxication may also be held liable in some circumstances. This is known as Dram Shop liability.

Golf CourseIn most states that permit Dram Shop cases, there is a specific statute that allows victims to proceed against the serving establishment. However, there is no such statute in Washington, D.C. That being said, Washington, D.C. courts have routinely upheld a plaintiff’s right to seek compensation in Dram Shop cases based on D.C. Code Annotated section 25-781, which prohibits the sale of alcohol to anyone who is intoxicated, appears to be intoxicated, or is known to have a drinking problem. Importantly, Maryland courts have routinely rejected the theory of Dram Shop liability. Thus, Maryland drunk driving victims can hold the serving establishment liable for injuries caused by a drunk driver.

A recent appellate court decision out of Florida illustrates how Dram Shop liability can help an injured plaintiff seek the compensation they deserve.

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Earlier this month, a Florida jury awarded a victim of a drunk driving accident $8 million for her medical expenses, permanent injuries, and pain and suffering related to the accident. According to one local news source covering the case, the accident occurred back on October 1, 2010, and it involved allegations that the drunk driver was traveling at about 100 miles per hour when he ran into the back of the plaintiff’s vehicle.

Blurred CityscapePolice conducted a blood test after the accident, which indicated that the driver’s blood alcohol content was above the legal limit. In an interesting turn, the driver responsible for the accident was not criminally charged, despite the evidence of intoxication. Reporters attempted to contact the prosecutor’s office to ask why the case never was brought, but prosecutors did not have an answer, explaining only that there was no record that the case ever reached the office.

The victim of the accident explained to reporters that she had “experienced countless doctors’ appointments, therapy, injections, and then surgery.” Finally, almost seven years after the accident, she received the compensation she deserved.

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By accepting a Maryland driver’s license, all motorists assume a legal duty to operate their vehicles in a safe and responsible manner and in accordance with the state’s traffic laws. In some cases, a driver’s dangerous driving habits do not rise to the level of criminal conduct, but they may still be the basis for a personal injury lawsuit. For example, if a driver causes an accident while daydreaming behind the wheel, it is most likely that they will be issued a citation, and no further criminal charges will be pursued. However, the accident victim may still choose to pursue a personal injury case to recover for the damages they sustained in the accident.

CocktailOther dangerous driving behavior, such as drunk driving, is both a violation of a criminal law as well as a basis for civil liability. This means that if a drunk driver causes an accident, they will likely face criminal charges that could result in probation, fines, and even imprisonment. However, the focus of a criminal trial is not to obtain compensation for the injuries sustained by the accident victim. If an accident victim would like to obtain compensation for their injuries, this must be done through a personal injury lawsuit.

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Despite the millions of dollars spent by the state and federal governments to curb the dangerous habit of drunk driving, the reality is that drunk drivers still pose a serious threat to Maryland motorists. While the total number of alcohol-related deaths has fallen, the percentage of alcohol-related deaths in relation to the total number of vehicle fatalities remains the same as in years past. In fact, in 2016, 159 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes across the State of Maryland. This represents about 31% of the total number of traffic fatalities.

White Knuckle GripMaryland lawmakers are aware of the drunk driving problem facing the state and continue to take action to stop it. In fact, according to a recent local news source, Maryland lawmakers are currently trying to pass a bill that would increase the criminal penalties for drunk drivers who cause serious injuries as a result of their actions. Evidently, the law currently calls for enhanced penalties when a drunk driver causes “life-threatening injury;” however, the proposed bill would amend that language to include any “serious physical injury.”

This most recent move to implement stricter criminal penalties reflects Maryland lawmakers’ dedication to reducing drunk driving. However, the criminal consequences of drunk driving only represent part of a drunk driver’s potential liability. Drunk drivers may also be liable to their victims through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in Georgia issued a written opinion in a car accident case that was brought by a man who was injured by a drunk driver who had been given permission to use a truck owned by the company for which he worked. The injured motorist filed a lawsuit against the drunk driver as well as the driver’s employer under the theory of negligent entrustment. Ultimately, the court reversed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding that sufficient evidence was presented to show that the employer may have known about the employee’s previous DUI convictions.

Traffic JamThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a car accident when he was struck by a drunk driver. At the time of the accident, the drunk driver was operating a moving truck that belonged to his employer. While the employer’s general rule was not to allow employees to use company vehicles for personal use, the employee did obtain permission.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against both the driver and his employer. During pre-trial discovery, the plaintiff became aware that the driver had a prior criminal record, including four DUIs and a charge for possession of cocaine. The plaintiff argued that the driver’s employer was negligent in allowing the employee to use the car, given this information, which was available to the employer.

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Everyone with a driver’s license knows that driving while under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicating substances is against the law. In many cases, the fear of being caught by police, losing their driving privileges, and potentially facing a lengthy term of incarceration deters drivers from getting behind the wheel after they have too many drinks. However, the criminal consequences of a drunk driving conviction are only half of the repercussions that a drunk driver may face. There can also be significant civil consequences.

Broken HeadlampWhen someone is injured in a drunk driving accident, they are entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit against the drunk driver as well as the drunk driver’s insurance company, seeking monetary compensation for their injuries. These lawsuits proceed under the legal theory of negligence, which requires an accident victim to prove that the drunk driver was somehow negligent and that their negligence was the cause of the injuries. Moreover, since there is a specific statutory prohibition against drunk driving, people injured in a drunk driving accident can often take advantage of procedural “shortcuts” in proving a claim.

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As this blog has previously noted, Maryland does not have a Dram Shop Act that victims of drunk driving accident victims can use to hold the party who served the drunk driver responsible. However, according to a very recent case from the Maryland Court of Appeals, Maryland law now imposes a duty on adults who knowingly or willingly serve alcohol to minors.

Bottles of WhiskeyKiriakos v. Phillips

In the case of Kiriakos v. Phillips, the court consolidated two different cases that presented a similar issue. Thus, in addition to the case brought by Kiriakos, there was also a case titled Dankos v. Stapf. Courts rarely do this but will from time to time when a nearly identical issue is presented by two separate cases.

While both cases presented similar issues, the Dankos case presents the issue more clearly. Steven Dankos, a 17-year-old, was killed in a traffic accident after he and some friends were partying at the defendant’s home. The defendant was an adult woman who allowed the defendant and his friends to consume alcohol at her home. Specifically, Dankos and company were in the defendant’s garage. The evidence presented at trial showed that the defendant would check in on the under-age children occasionally, but she never once told them to stop drinking. Furthermore, she never told them to refrain from driving after they had consumed too much to drink.

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Drunk driving is one of the top causes of fatal traffic accidents across the United States as well as in Maryland. In fact, so far this year, there have already been 130 fatal traffic accidents caused by drunk driving in Maryland alone. This represents about one-third of all fatal traffic accidents.

Bottle of WineMaryland lawmakers, police, and judges all take drunk driving seriously, and the state has a strict system in place to punish those who are found to have driven while intoxicated. Moreover, in cases when another party is hurt due to the driver’s negligent decision to get behind the wheel while he or she is intoxicated, Maryland law allows for the injured party to file a civil claim for damages against the driver as well as his insurance company.

Civil cases brought against a drunk driver proceed under the legal theory of negligence, specifically negligence per se. Negligence per se is a type of negligence claim that is available to plaintiffs when the conduct in which the defendant was engaging at the time of the accident has already been determined to be illegal. For example, since drunk driving is illegal in Maryland, any plaintiff bringing a case against a Maryland drunk driver can benefit from the doctrine of negligence per se.

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