Prior to the early 1990s, DUIs were rarely enforced on the street, and if they made it to court, they were little more than traffic tickets. Indeed, my own mother was hit by a drunk driver in the early 1980s. It was Christmas Eve, and the sheriff near the small town where we lived in central Missouri told my mom to give the guy a break because it was Christmas. That used to be the mentality. Fortunately, in the following decades, DUI crackdown began. Sadly, alcohol still causes about a third of the fatal car crashes in Missouri. That is roughly the same proportion as before the crackdown began.
Alcohol-related car crashes are usually high-speed wrecks. That normally means that serious injuries result because speed multiples the force in a collision. Therefore, a Kansas City personal injury attorney might be able to help victims 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.
First Party Liability
Typically, alcohol-related car crashes involve DUI charges. In criminal court, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) can be guilty of DUI because of a high BAC level or the loss of normal physical or mental faculties. In civil court, alcohol-impaired tortfeasors could be liable for damages as a matter of law if:
- They violate a safety law, and
- That violation substantially causes injury.
The negligence per se doctrine usually applies even if the tortfeasor beats the criminal DUI charges. For example, in many DUI-collision cases, there is insufficient evidence in criminal court to convict for driving under the influence beyond a reasonable doubt. But in civil court, the burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Because of the lower standard of proof, driving under the influence is easier to prove in a civil case.
On a related note, there is a difference between intoxication and impairment. Most people are legally intoxicated after they consume a few drinks, but impairment begins with the first drink. Circumstantial evidence of impairment includes:
- Erratic driving,
- Unsteady balance,
- Bloodshot eyes,
- Slurred speech, and
- Prior stops.
This circumstantial evidence may come into play even if the tortfeasor was severely intoxicated. If the tortfeasor was killed, emergency responders obviously do not press DUI charges.
Impairment begins at the first drink because alcohol affects both motor skills and judgment ability. These effects make alcohol a good party beverage, but a very poor substance for drivers. Tortfeasors who drink are less able to react to changing situations, and a sense of euphoria prompts them to take unnecessary and dangerous chances.
Third Party Liability
As mentioned, a tortfeasor’s previous location might be enough to establish alcohol impairment. If the tortfeasor recently visited a commercial establishment that serves alcohol, it is more likely than not that the person had something to drink there.
Previous port of call could also create third party liability. Bars, restaurants, and other commercial alcohol providers could be vicariously liable for damages if they serve patrons who are:
- Underage: Generally, providers are liable as a matter of law in these situations. Even if the tortfeasor produced a fake ID, Missouri’s broad dram shop law probably still applies.
- Visibly Intoxicated: If the patron was visibly intoxicated and the provider served the patron anyway, third party liability applies regardless of age. Victim/plaintiffs may use much of the same circumstantial evidence mentioned above to establish visible intoxication at the time of sale.
Social hosts might be vicariously liable for damages, as well, under a theory like negligent undertaking.
Contact an Assertive Attorney
Alcohol-related crash victims might have several legal options. If you have been injured due to another person’s negligence, call Aaron House at 816-875-4260 today for a free consultation. Attorneys can often help find medical providers who will treat injuries, even for victims who do not have health insurance.
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