Articles Posted in Drunk Driving Accidents

In Virginia, like elsewhere in the country, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law. However, despite the known dangers and potential criminal consequences of drunk driving, there are approximately 7,500 Virginia DUI car accidents each year. Not surprisingly, roughly half of these accidents result in injuries and about 250 result in at least one fatality.

Virginia’s Wrongful Death Statute

When someone is killed due to the negligence of another, the surviving family members of the accident victim may be able to pursue a claim for financial compensation against the at-fault parties. This is referred to as a Virginia wrongful death claim.

Under Virginia Code § 8.01-53, a wrongful death claim is brought by the personal representative of the accident victim’s estate for the benefit of the statutory beneficiaries of the accident victim. The statutory beneficiaries are the surviving spouse, any children of the deceased, as well as any grandchildren of the deceased (if the accident victim’s child is also deceased). If no person fits in the above category, the claim can be brought on behalf of parents, siblings, or any other relative who lived with the victim and relied upon them for support.

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While the number of Maryland drunk driving accidents continues to slowly decrease year over year, impaired driving is still a leading cause of Maryland car accidents. Indeed, according to the most recent government statistics, there are on average 443 people seriously injured and 160 killed in Maryland drunk driving accidents each year. Drunk driving poses such a danger to Maryland motorists that impaired driving prevention and enforcement consume nearly half the state’s budget for traffic safety programs.

Over recent years, Maryland lawmakers have taken steps to discourage people from getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink. Most of the new measures focus on the criminal penalties associated with a drunk driving conviction. For example, new laws mandate an ignition interlock device be installed on certain offender’s vehicles. While the new laws may deter some motorists from driving drunk, the laws provide little consolation to those who have been seriously injured by a Maryland impaired driver.

That is not to say that Maryland accident victims are without a means of recourse. Anyone injured in a Maryland DUI accident can pursue a civil case for damages against a driver they believe to be responsible for their injuries. Similarly, those who have lost a loved one in a Maryland car accident can file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver. While seemingly simple in theory, in practice these cases can be exceedingly complex and should be handled by experienced Maryland personal injury lawyers.

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A Maryland personal injury lawsuit is a civil claim, the purpose of which is to seek compensation for the plaintiff’s injuries. However, the defendant’s actions that resulted in the accident may also rise to the level of criminal conduct. If this is the case, then the defendant may face both criminal and civil charges.

It is not uncommon for a defendant to face both criminal and civil charges. For example, in most Maryland DUI accidents, the defendant can be found both criminally and civilly liable. However, for the most part, a personal injury victim will wait until the outcome of a criminal trial to file their lawsuit. There are several reasons for this, including that a criminal conviction can be helpful to a personal injury plaintiff in proving their case against the defendant. However, there are also other considerations that should be taken into account.

A recent opinion from a state appellate court illustrates one potential issue a personal injury plaintiff could face while litigating a civil claim while the defendant’s criminal matter is pending.

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Late last month, one woman was killed in a Maryland car accident that occurred on the side of Highway 50 near Route 410 in Prince George’s County. According to a local news report, the victim pulled over and got out of her car to assist another motorist who had lost control of their vehicle and crashed into a wall.

Evidently, shortly after the woman exited her car and was approaching the disabled vehicle, another car struck her. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency workers. The driver of the car that hit the victim was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.

Drunk Driving Accidents in Maryland

Despite countless government campaigns, motorists routinely get behind the wheel after having consumed too much to drink. In fact, in Maryland alone, there are approximately 170 people killed each year due to drunk driving. While the government often prosecutes drunk drivers, there is little that the criminal justice system can do to provide compensation to those who have been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a Maryland DUI accident.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a decision in a wrongful death case arising out of a drunk-driving accident that occurred at the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. The case required the court to determine whether the plaintiff’s case, which was brought against the venue organizers as well as the City where the festival occurred, should be permitted to proceed toward a jury trial over the defendants’ summary judgment motion. Ultimately, the court determined that the case should be dismissed against each of the defendants, albeit for different reasons.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was the surviving spouse of a man who was killed when a drunk driver fleeing from police drove through a barrier and into a crowd of people at the city-wide SXSW festival. Due to the multi-venue nature of the festival, festival organizers needed to apply for several use permits from the city. In particular, the use permit stated that “[a]ll traffic controls must be provided in accordance with the approved traffic control plan.”

Evidently, festival organizers closed three linear blocks, installing traffic barriers at each intersection. A police officer was also placed at each intersection to keep watch. However, the barricades failed to stop a drunk-driver from crashing through them and driving into a crowd of people. The plaintiff’s spouse was among four who were killed.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case involving a plaintiff’s attempt to hold a bar responsible for the actions of a drunk driver under the theory that the bar was negligent in serving the at-fault driver to the point of intoxication. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff presented sufficient evidence of the establishment’s negligence for a jury to hear the case.

The case presents an interesting and developing issue under Maryland personal injury law in that, prior to 2016, third parties could not be held liable for serving alcohol to someone who later went on to cause a car accident. However, in a landmark case, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that an accident victim can hold those responsible who served a minor alcohol if it contributed to a subsequent drunk driving accident.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was rear-ended while driving with her two children. The driver who rear-ended her was determined to be under the influence of alcohol. That driver was cited for driving under the influence. As it turns out, the driver was returning from a work event at a local bar. After the accident, the woman reported feeling “buzzed” to police. The officer noted that the woman had bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech.

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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.

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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.

The 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.

In 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.

Police 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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