Deadly Crash Triggers Homicide Charges
Following a single car accident that killed a 16-year-old girl, an 18-year-old woman faces intoxication manslaughter charges.
Marshall County Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the crash scene at Sayler Creek Road and Griggstown Road determined that the driver from Paducah, was intoxicated when she was traveling at a high rate of speed and apparently lost control of her vehicle. Her passenger was pronounced dead at the scene.
Officials originally charged the driver with murder, but subsequently downgraded the charges to second degree manslaughter.
First Party Liability in Alcohol-Related Car Accidents
Alcohol-related crashes offer an excellent example of the two ways that victim/plaintiffs have to establish liability for damages in negligence cases.
In the above case, since the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was charged with DUI, the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) rule applies. Tortfeasors are strictly liable for damages if:
- They violate a safety law, and
- Said violation substantially caused the car accident or other event.
Under this rule, the civil jury determines whether or not the first element is present, so victim/plaintiffs may be able to use this shortcut even if the tortfeasors are found not guilty in criminal court. That’s because there is a lower standard of proof in civil court, so less evidence of wrongdoing is required.
If the tortfeasor is not charged with DUI, the victim/plaintiff can still prevail in alcohol related car crash cases by introducing circumstantial evidence of impairment. Because of the lower standard of proof mentioned above, the tortfeasor may still be liable for damages, because impairment starts with the first drink and most people are only legally intoxicated after about three drinks.
Circumstantial evidence of intoxication includes:
- Bloodshot eyes,
- Slurred speech, and
- Unsteady balance.
This evidence is normally not enough to establish intoxication in criminal court, but it is generally sufficient to establish impairment in civil court.
Third Party Liability in Alcohol-Related Car Accidents
Kentucky has a narrow dram shop law that gives bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and other commercial alcohol providers immunity if their intoxicated patrons subsequently injure or kill another person in a bar fight, car accident, or whatever.
However, this immunity does not apply if the tortfeasor was under 21. As a matter of fact, in these situations, the provider is usually strictly liable, as it is normally not a defense that the tortfeasor “looked 21” or was not intoxicated at the time of the purchase.
Liability attaches if the commercially-provided alcohol substantially caused the car accident.
If the victim was a passenger in the tortfeasor’s car, the insurance company will probably raise an assumption of the risk defense. There are two elements, as the victim must:
- Voluntarily assume
- A known risk.
Neither of these elements are easy to prove, because for example, if the victim had no other way to get home, the assumption was arguably not “voluntary.”
For prompt assistance with a car accident case from Attorney Gary S. Logsdon, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in Franklin today, because you have a limited amount of time to act.