Words have power. “Liberal” has a different connotation than “progressive,” even though they basically mean the same thing. Similarly, there’s a big difference between a “car crash” and a “car accident.”
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head Dr. Mark Rosekind said as much during a Harvard seminar in 2016. “When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen,’” Dr. Rosekind remarked. Instead, some sort of risky behavior causes 94 percent of car crashes, he noted. NHTSA is far from the first agency to take this position. Way back in 1997, Massachusetts Highway Safety Director Jeff Larason instructed that agency to use crash instead of accident. About thirty other organizations, including NHTSA, New York City, and the Associated Press, have followed suit. However, many people still prefer the old term. They believe that, in this situation, accidental is synonymous with unintentional. Nevertheless, others point out, planes crash, ships sink, and trains wreck. Yet for some reason, automobiles have accidents.
The A word first entered usage in this context in the early 1900s. Back then, factory owners called workplace injuries “industrial accidents.” That phrase removed focus from their own negligence and shifted blame onto injured workers.
“Crash” is especially appropriate if one of the following types of driving impairment is involved. These situations are not unavoidable accidents. Instead, they usually involve one of the following:
- Negligence: In a nutshell, negligence is a lack of ordinary care. If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) fails to use reasonable care, and that failure causes injury, the tortfeasor is liable for damages.
- Negligence Per Se: Sometimes, Georgia law establishes the standard of care. For example, if the tortfeasor is charged with DUI, the tortfeasor may be liable for damages as a matter of law. In this case, the victim/plaintiff must only prove cause.
In Cobb County, damages in a negligence or negligence per se case usually include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and non economic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some extreme cases.
Alcohol-Related Car Wrecks
The extended crackdown against drunk drivers is now in about its twentieth year. Yet alcohol still accounts for about a third of the fatal car crashes in Marietta. Alcohol is a depressant that slows motor skills. When operating a motor vehicle, seconds count. Alcohol also replaces sound judgement with a sense of euphoria. That effect makes people great fun at parties, but it’s potentially deadly when these individuals are behind the wheel.
Alcohol-related crashes may involve either negligence or negligence per se. Again, if the tortfeasor is charged with DUI, the negligence per se shortcut applies. It does not matter if the tortfeasor was not convicted. In civil court, the jury determines all the facts.
Typically, .08 is the legal BAC Limit in Georgia. For most adults, that’s usually three or four drinks. But driving impairment begins with the first drink. In these low-level BAC cases, victim/plaintiffs may use circumstantial evidence to establish impairment. Such evidence includes:
- Erratic driving,
- Odor of alcohol,
- Bloodshot eyes, and
- Slurred speech.
The victim/plaintiff must establish impairment by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. So, even though the aforementioned circumstantial evidence may only establish consumption, such evidence is more than enough.
This evidence may also be sufficient to establish third party liability. Under Georgia law, restaurants, bars, and other commercial providers may be liable if their impaired patrons cause car crashes or other injuries. Section 51-1-40 applies if the sale of alcohol was illegal. That could mean that the customer was:
- Under 21, or
- Noticeably intoxicated.
Georgia is a modified joint and several liability state. So, if there are multiple tortfeasors, the judge usually apportions damages based on their percentage of fault.
Marietta Car Crashes and Drug Use
In some places, the number of “drugged” drivers exceeds the number of “drunk” drivers. Many drugs have roughly the same effect as alcohol. That’s not just limited to LSD, cocaine, heroin, and other street drugs.
Many prescription painkillers, like Oxycontin and Fentanyl, are more powerful than morphine and perhaps even more powerful than heroin. It is not illegal to take these drugs, so long as the person has a valid prescription. However, it is illegal and dangerous to drive while under the influence of these drugs. These acts usually involve negligence or negligence per se, as outlined above.
Third party liability
Third party liability may apply here as well. Doctors who overprescribe opioids may be liable for car crash damages. Foreseeability is the main hurdle here. Victim/plaintiffs must prove that the doctor’s negligence was closely related to the car crash. That’s often possible. “Foreseeable” is not synonymous with “likely.” That’s two different things. Moreover, victim/plaintiffs must only establish foreseeability by a preponderance of the evidence.
Even some over the counter drugs could cause driving impairment. That’s especially true of powerful cold medicines, like NyQuil, and sleep aids, like Sominex, Ambien (Zolpidem). Depending on the individual, these drugs could have effects that last for hours.
In drugged driving situations, circumstantial evidence is usually sufficient to establish impairment. That could include an opioid prescription or a recent over the counter drug purchase.
Substance-involved crashes are ripe for punitive damage claims, especially if the tortfeasor has a very high BAC or there is other such evidence. People who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol know that they should not be driving. Nevertheless, they make a conscious choice to drive and put other people at risk. If there is clear and convincing evidence of such recklessness, a Cobb County jury could award significant punitive damages. That’s especially true if the car crash injuries were quite severe, perhaps involving wrongful death.
Reach Out to an Aggressive Lawyer
Impaired drivers usually cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.