Drinking and Driving Accidents...



A Personal Injury Case Study

This case study demonstrates many important legal issues regarding drinking and driving accidents. We'll review the accident, liability, injuries, settlement negotiations, and the final case resolution.

The Accident...

Ms. Drinker was at a Mike's Tavern, a local bar in the area, after work with several of her co-workers celebrating a recent promotion. Barry the bartender continued to serve her despite the fact that she was visibly intoxicated. Her co-workers also continued to buy her shots, all recognizing that she was inebriated.

Ms. Drinker looked at her watch and realized that it was getting late, thanked her co-workers and left. No one offered to drive her home. Ms. Drinker entered the interstate traveling in the wrong direction and hit a semi-truck head-on, dying on impact. The semi-truck overturned and the driver was ejected from the cab, paralyzing him from the waist down.

Liability...

There are currently variations of a statute known as the Dram Shop Act in 38 U.S. states. This statute holds bartenders and tavern owners responsible for serving alcohol to patrons when they are known to be visibly intoxicated or simply, when the bartender determines subjectively that the patron has had too much to drink. The process of determining liability under this statute varies from state to state.

In Ms. Drinker's state however, this statute has been outlawed. The courts found that it unlawfully places liability upon business owners and their employees for the acts of grown adults. Therefore, in this alcohol related accident there is no liability for Mike's Tavern or Barry.

But what about her co-workers? No. There is almost always no affirmative duty to rescue a person, make them stop drinking or offer a ride home. There is often an unfortunate distinction between moral and legal obligations in cases involving drinking and driving accidents.

Injuries...

A head-on collision with a semi-truck caused extreme life-threatening injury to the semi driver and killed the drunk driver. Ms. Drinker died on impact due to traumatic injury to her entire body (considering that head-on collisions cause vehicles to be crushed on impact).

Also, when a driver is ejected onto a highway, the injuries can be severe including trauma, broken bones, head injury and sometimes death.

Negotiations...

Clearly Ms Drinker, the driver of the vehicle traveling the opposite direction on the interstate, is at fault. The semi is under no duty to deviate from the oncoming vehicle to avoid collision.

In this drinking and driving accident case there were two suits:

One was a worker's compensation claim. Most states are compulsory meaning that employers are required to carry workers comp insurance. Because the truck driver was working in the scope of his employment when permanently injured, he submitted a worker's compensation claim.

This was also a personal injury claim against the driver. Even though she was deceased, the truck driver still submitted a claim against her insurance company and her estate, since the policy limits of $100,000 were insufficient to fully compensate him.

Final Settlement...

The workers compensation carrier determined that he was 90% permanently disabled. They also modified his work requirements allowing him to perform the dispatch function which he was able to do comfortably from an ergonomic desk in his wheelchair.

In the personal injury arena, the truck driver settled with the decedent's insurance company for $100,000, however this was insufficient to satisfy his medical bills which totaled $330,000. He hired an attorney and sued her estate for $1 million. He received a judgment which he collected when her estate was settled.

His medical bills were covered by his insurance company. However through indemnity (an agreement stating that, if there is a settlement, the insurance company will be paid back for the money they spent on his medical bills), they expected reimbursement of $270,000 which he paid from his settlement proceeds. He also paid his attorney the contingecy fee of 40%, or $400,000.

Important Points...

  • Clearly it is not a good idea to get behind the wheel with any measurable amount of alcohol, but especially not when legally intoxicated (which in most states is .08%). Drinking and driving accidents can alter the lives of several people and can even take your own or others.

  • Variations of the Dram Shop Act in 38 states can hold bar owners and bartenders (and even hosts of private social gatherings!) legally responsible if a patron becomes intoxicated and subsequently injures themselves or others. Check your jurisdiction for the relevant statutes.

  • If an insurance policy is insufficient to satisfy a claim for damages, the negligent party can be sued personally for an alcohol related accident or other personal injury.

  • Sometimes you need to hire an attorney to get the results you are entitled to. In any personal injury case involving wrongful death or permanent disability it is essential that you hire an experienced attorney.

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TYPE OF ACCIDENT
AUTO ACCIDENT
PERSONAL INJURY
WORKERS COMPENSATION
MEDICAL ERROR
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