Articles Posted in Drunk Driving Accidents

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.

The 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.

When 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.

Kiriakos 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.

Maryland 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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Drunk driving is a serious problem not just in Maryland but across the entire United States. In fact, it is estimated that each day there are about 27 people who lose their lives to a drunk-driving related accident. While some of these cases involve people who were drinking in their own home, many of these accidents are the result of a restaurant or social host over-serving the driver who eventually causes the accident. It is for this reason that many states have adopted “Dram Shop Laws” that can act to hold a restaurant, bar, or social host liable for the injuries caused by a drunk driving accident involving someone to whom they served liquor.

A Recent Application of Dram Shop Laws

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion allowing a woman’s wrongful death case to proceed against the establishment that served her father alcohol moments before he was fatally injured in a single-vehicle car accident. In the case, Bayless v. TTS Trio Corporation, the plaintiff’s case survived a summary challenge brought by the defendant, claiming that the plaintiff pleaded no personal knowledge of her father’s state when the defendant restaurant served him the alcohol.

Before trial began, the plaintiff interviewed a number of people who were present on the day of her father’s accident. It was discovered that the man had been at the bar for about six hours and had been served about 12 drinks during that time. However, since the plaintiff was not personally present on the day in question, none of the evidence presented to the court was first-hand in nature. The defendant challenged this as insufficient. However, the court ultimately determined that at the early stage at which the challenge was brought, enough evidence was presented to allow the case to proceed to trial.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Kentucky handed down a decision that reversed the punitive damages awarded by a jury at trial. In the case, Nissan v. Maddox, the plaintiff was a woman who was injured in an accident while driving her Nissan Pathfinder along the highway. Evidently, a drunk driver struck her vehicle head on, severely injuring both the plaintiff and the other occupant in the vehicle. Mrs. Maddox specifically suffered a tear to her bowel and several broken bones.

Mrs. Maddox filed suit against the driver as well as against Nissan. Relevant to this case was her claim against Nissan, which was that the Pathfinder had a defectively designed restraint system and that the company failed to warn customers about this failure.

Mrs. Maddox, who was 240 pounds at the time of the accident, argued that the restraint system was designed for people of medium weight. She also alleged that the front seat was defectively designed, exacerbating her injuries.

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Earlier this month, an Indian Head man was arrested and charged with several DUI-related charges for his involvement in a fatal DUI accident that took place back in April of this year. According to one local news source, the accident took place during the late evening hours of April 28.

Evidently, the man who was recently charged was driving his Chevrolet Silverado northbound on Route 425 when he inexplicably crossed over the center median and collided with a Kia Soul. The two vehicles collided head-on. The driver of the Kia, a 20-year-old Nanjemoy volunteer firefighter, died at the scene of the accident. The driver of the Silverado was also injured, although he was able to recover from his injuries.

After the fatal accident, police suspected the driver of the Silverado of being intoxicated, and they conducted tests to determine if that was the case. Once the tests came back, they indicated that that was indeed the case. Charges were then filed for negligent homicide, homicide by auto, and driving under the influence, and the man was arrested.

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Back in August 2014, Gary Clever was with his family in his daughter’s car when a drunk driver slammed into the vehicle, injuring everyone inside. Gary Clever, however, suffered the worst of it. He needed to be immediately transported to R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma in Baltimore, where he stayed for two and a half months.

According to one local news source, Mr. Clever remembers the accident and recalls telling his daughter that he was “not going to make it.” He remembers the smell and the feel of his own flesh burning. Initially, upon admission to the hospital, doctors told him that he was paralyzed from the chest down. While his insurance company determined that he was ineligible for care where he was receiving treatment, he has found other alternatives. And with time and a heroic effort, he has improved. He has been using an exercise bike to slowly increase the use of his lower body, with hopes of one day being able to walk again. But Mr. Clever’s work is far from over.

The drunk driver that collided with his daughter’s car that day had been convicted of drunk driving twice prior to this incident. While that driver was insured, Maryland law only requires that a person twice convicted of DUI maintain $30,000 in insurance. However, Mr. Clever maintains that this figure is far from sufficient to help cover injuries like the ones that he sustained.

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Earlier this month, one woman lost her life and another man is in critical condition following an accident between two cars that occurred in Baynes, Maryland. According to one local news report, the accident took place on Darnestown Road near Whites Ferry Road in the evening hours.

Evidently, the two accident victims were traveling in an SUV that was operated by another male, the boyfriend of the deceased woman. At some point, the SUV crossed over the center line dividing the lanes of oncoming traffic. As the SUV crossed over, it struck a sedan traveling in the opposite direction. The force from the collision caused the SUV to roll over and eventually strike a tree near the roadside.

One of the passengers was ejected from the vehicle, and another was trapped inside. Before emergency workers could respond, a passerby stopped to help the injured accident victims. However, despite their best efforts, the front-seat passenger, a 23-year-old woman, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. The other passenger, a 23-year-old male, was still in the hospital in critical condition at the time the article was published.

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Earlier last month in North Potomac, two teens were killed and two others injured in what investigators believe was a drunk driving accident. According to one local news report, the accident occurred on the 13800 block of Dufief Mill Road in North Potomac just before midnight.

Evidently, four teens were traveling together in a car when the driver unsuccessfully negotiated a curve in the roadway. The vehicle left the road, crashing into a tree and a nearby fence before ultimately coming to a rest on its roof. The two back-seat passengers were pronounced dead at the scene by emergency responders. The driver and front-seat passenger both survived the wreck. However, the driver did sustain life-threatening injuries as a result. Police believe that the two teens in the back seat did not have their seatbelts on.

Police have told reporters that they believe alcohol and speed may have been involved in the fatal car accident. Apparently, police also received a lead that the teens were all at a party where they were drinking. Police have made contact with an adult who was allegedly at the home during the time of the party. There is no word on whether that adult will face criminal charges.

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