During certain times, as many as a fifth of area drivers are under the influence of drugs. This figure may be artificially low, as it does not include drivers who are under the influence of an over-the-counter medication, such as NyQuil, Sominex, or Benadryl.
Prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin and Fentanyl, are the most common types of impairing drugs. These medicines are usually more powerful than morphine or even heroin. Other prescription drugs, mostly Xanax and other antidepressants, have roughly the same effect on the brain and body.
Illegal drugs, such as methamphetamines, are a problem as well. These substances are extremely powerful, and they remain in the body for quite some time. Frequently, these individuals feel sober enough to function, but many hours after they take such drugs, they are still too impaired to safely operate a motor vehicle.
That condition applies to other drug users as well. For the most part, these individuals know they should not get behind the wheel. Yet they drive anyway, intentionally placing other people at risk. Because of this dynamic, as well as the serious injuries drug-related wrecks cause, a Marietta personal injury attorney can often obtain substantial compensation in these cases. That compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
How Drugs Affect Drivers
By design, all the aforementioned drugs alter brain or body chemistry. These chemical changes are more pronounced in certain individuals. Opioid painkillers are a good example. For patients experiencing severe physical pain, opioids mask the discomfort, so patients feel better. If the patient is not experiencing severe pain, the patient only feels the opioid high. So, the effects are even worse.
These effects vary among different individuals. Here are some common effects of some drugs frequently associated with drugged driving:
- Marijuana: With the expansion of medical marijuana laws, these drugged driving incidents are increasingly common. Like alcohol, marijuana impairs motor skills and clouds judgement ability. Unlike alcohol, these effects are very strong after the first hit and diminish rapidly thereafter, at least in most cases.
- Meth: Like cocaine and some other illegal street drugs, methamphetamines increase aggressive behavior. Minor annoyances, such as another driver who changes lanes without signaling, become major events. Furthermore, meth often makes people take unnecessary chances behind the wheel.
- Opioids: These drugs typically make people drowsy. Fatigue and alcohol both affect the brain and body in roughly the same way. Additionally, opioids impair memory and cognitive skills. So, these drivers are easily confused. And, they are unable to think their way out of even simple dilemmas, like how to change lanes in heavy traffic.
- Sedatives: Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), and other sedatives do not just make people drowsy. They also cause dizziness and other issues.
As mentioned, and with the possible exception of marijuana, the impairing effects of these drugs linger long after the primary effects have worn off. Operating heavy machinery, like a motor vehicle, requires so much concentration that any impairment could have a devastating impact.
Direct Evidence of Drug Impairment
Frequently, emergency responders charge drugged drivers with DUI. Georgia has a very broad DUI-drugs law which encompasses almost any form of drug impairment. The increasing use of DREs (Drug Recognition Experts) has fueled an even larger number of DUI-drug arrests.
In the situations, the negligence per se doctrine usually applies. Tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are often responsible for damages as a matter of law if:
- The violate a safety law, like the DUI law, and
- That violation substantially causes injury.
This doctrine usually applies even if the tortfeasor “beats” the DUI charges in criminal court. Civil juries determine all the facts in civil cases.
Furthermore, damages are often higher in negligence per se claims. To many jurors, flaunting a safety law is akin to a reckless disregard of the safety of others. This attitude is especially apparent regarding noneconomic damages, because this category is rather subjective.
Not all drugged drivers face DUI charges. Sometimes, the tortfeasor was killed or is seriously injured, so emergency responders have different priorities. Other times, the drug impairment is so mild that officers do not believe DUI charges would hold up in criminal court.
Prosecutors must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the highest standard of proof in Georgia. But in civil court, victim/plaintiffs must only establish negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest standard of proof in Georgia.
The lower standard of evidence makes it easier to establish negligence based on circumstantial evidence of drug use. That evidence could include:
- Current opioid or other prescriptions,
- Open pill boxes, bottles, or other containers in the vehicle,
- Physical symptoms, such as slurred speech or bloodshot eyes, and
- Statements the tortfeasor made to emergency responders which were recorded in the police report.
Drivers are negligent if they breached a legal duty, and that breach caused damage. Most drivers have a duty of reasonable care. They must drive sober and drive defensively. Any drug use arguably breaches that duty, because drugged drivers are not at their best.
Third Party Liability
In catastrophic injury claims, tortfeasors often do not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation. For example, the medical bills and other out-of-pocket costs in a spine injury case may exceed $4 million. In these situations, third party liability could be important. Vicarious liability theories give these victims an additional source of recovery. Some common issues include:
- Improper Warning: Pharmacists do not always review all a medicine’s effects with every patient. That’s especially true if the patient has limited English proficiency, because generally, no translator is available.
- Medical Malpractice: On a related note, many doctors write prescriptions for powerful painkillers and do not ask too many questions. Since doctors have such a high legal duty toward their patients, this misconduct is clearly negligent.
Foreseeability is sometimes an issue in third-party liability claims. That’s especially true in drugged driving claims. Generally, the doctor, pharmacist, or other negligent party must know that the tortfeasor either did a lot of driving or would be driving after s/he picked up the medicine.
Contact an Aggressive Lawyer
Drugged drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in personal injury cases.