Articles Posted in Drunk Driving Accidents

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.

Other 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.

Maryland 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.

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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