Articles Posted in DUI Victims

Georgia law defines DUI as not only driving under the influence of alcohol but also driving under the influence of drugs. In Georgia, a person is guilty of a DUI if driving under the influence of any drug to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive. If a person operates a motor vehicle with any amount of marijuana or a controlled substance in the person’s body, they can also be found guilty of a DUI.

If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident involving drugged driving, you may find it helpful to talk to an experienced Marietta personal injury lawyer.

Driving Under the Influence With Marijuana

Accidents happen, perhaps especially on the roadways. When drunk drivers are present, accidents – often serious, sometimes fatal – are that much more likely to happen. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is among the top causes of traffic accidents in the United States every year. In 2018, drunk drivers were involved in 29% of all traffic fatalities. That percentage has been consistent for many years. More than 10,500 people died in 2018 in traffic accidents in which at least one driver had a blood alcohol content of .08% – the legal limit in every state. On average, an alcohol-related traffic death happened more than once per hour in 2018, at an economic cost of more than $44 billion.

While driving under the influence usually is the result of drinking alcoholic beverages, times change, and both legal and illegal drugs now are a factor in about 16% of all traffic accidents. These drugs can include prescription drugs, especially painkillers, that impair performance as well as illegal drugs ranging from marijuana to heroin or fentanyl or other opioids, whether legally or illegally obtained.

The Holidays Only Enhance the Risk of Being Hurt by a Drunk Driver

Each year more than 300 people die on Georgia roadways in drunk driving accidents. While prosecutors can file criminal charges against the drunk driver, that does not compensate victims and their families for their losses. Unfortunately, in many cases the drunk driver either has no insurance or lacks sufficient coverage to fully compensate the victims.

This is where uninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage can come into play. Under Georgia law, all auto insurance providers must offer UM/UIM coverage as part of their standard policies. The customer has the option to decline such coverage, but must do so in writing. While you are free to purchase any amount of UM/UIM insurance that an insurer offers, state law sets minimum coverage at $25,000 for bodily injury per person (or $50,000 per accident). In many cases, it is a good idea to purchase significantly more coverage, as the damages from an accident can easily exceed $50,000, especially if there is serious injury or death.

Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company v. Musgrove

Negligent entrustment is an issue that frequently arises in car accident cases. The basic idea is that if the defendant “entrusts” his own vehicle to someone who subsequently injures a third party, the third party can seek damages against the defendant if he had “actual knowledge that the driver is incompetent or habitually reckless,” according to a 2010 decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals. So, for example, if you loan your car to someone you know has a history of drunk driving, and that person proceeds to get drunk and plow your car into a minivan, the passengers in the minivan can sue you under the theory of negligent entrustment.

Cullara v. Building & Earth Sciences, Inc.

The Court of Appeals recently addressed the applicability of negligent entrustment in another case where the defendant disputes whether it had actual knowledge of a driver’s recklessness.

Is a bar owner responsible if a patron has too many drinks and subsequently gets into a car accident that injures an innocent third party? In some cases, the answer is “yes.” Like many states, Georgia has a dram shop law that applies to anyone who “sells, furnishes, or sells alcoholic beverages.”

An accident victim can sue the alcohol seller if three conditions are met. First, the seller must serve alcohol to a patron “who is in a state of noticeable intoxication.” Second, the seller must know that said patron “will soon be driving a motor vehicle.” Finally, this service of alcohol is the “proximate cause” of the victim’s injuries.

Barnes v. Smith

In a Georgia car accident case, a negligent driver may be liable for punitive damages if there is “clear and convincing evidence” of “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” For example, if the negligent driver was driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident, that would provide evidence of “willful misconduct” justifying a punitive damages award.

Dagne v. Schroeder

However, drunk driving is not the only thing that might lead a jury to award punitive damages. A recent Georgia case helps illustrate this point. This plaintiffs in this case were a mother and daughter who were driving home. The defendant was driving in the opposite direction on the same road. Witnesses observed the defendant “swerved within her lane and continuously sped up and slowed down.” At one point she swerved directly into the path of the plaintiffs’ vehicle. The mother tried to avoid the collision but failed. The vehicles collided, sending the plaintiff’s van into the air where it “tumbled several times after hitting the ground before finally coming to a rest upside down.”

If you’ve been in an automobile accident due to another driver’s negligence, and that driver’s insurance company asks you to sign a limited liability release in exchange for receiving compensation, it’s important you understand exactly what future legal rights you may be signing away. Even if you think a release may not cover some future claims, a judge may not see it that way. A recent case in a Georgia federal court helps illustrate this point.

Watford v. Cowart

This case began with a car accident in Cook County in late 2012. The plaintiff accused the defendant of negligence and sought punitive damages and attorney’s fees in addition to compensatory damages. The defendant admitted negligence (and operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol) and her insurance company paid the plaintiff $300,000, the coverage limit on the policy. The plaintiff also has separate uninsured motorist coverage. In exchange for the $300,000, the plaintiff signed a limited liability release applicable to all claims for damages and injuries arising from the automobile accident, except to the extent provided by the plaintiff’s uninsured motorist policy.

SealGA.jpgThe Georgia Supreme Court in Flores et al. v. Exprezit! Stores 98-Georgia, LLC, ruled last week that a convenience store can be sued if it sells alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who subsequently injures others. The original suit involved a Clinch County convenience store that sold a twelve pack of beer to a visibly intoxicated man, Billy Joe Grundell. About four hours after the purchase, Grundell’s vehicle crossed the center lane of a highway and collided with a van head-on in an accident that took his life as well as five others, including children who were six and three months old. At the time of the accident Grundell’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.

The decision revolved around the interpretation of Georgia’s “Dram Shop Act,” which provides that a person who sells, furnishes, or serves alcohol to an intoxicated person of lawful drinking age shall not be liable for injury, death, or damage that person causes because of their intoxication. However, the act also states that a person who knowingly sells alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person when they know that person will soon be driving may become liable.

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NAIC.jpgThe National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ eighteen month investigation of Allstate’s claims handling practices ended this month with Allstate agreeing to pay a $10 million dollar settlement. The primary focus of the investigation and settlement relates to Allstate’s use of a claims handling software called Colossus. Allstate has agreed to make several changes to it’s claims handling policies. However as a injury claim lawyer, I still advise caution when dealing with giant insurance companies like Allstate.

Their are many types of insurance claims where hiring a lawyer is typically not necessary, such as clear liability property damage claims. When dealing with a company like Allstate, whether you hire a lawyer or not, it’s always a good idea to at least consult with a lawyer. Most personal injury lawyers provide free consultations and information gathered from a lawyer consultation can be an invaluable resource for determining whether you are being treated fairly by an insurance company.

moveover.jpgOn Wednesday, October 13, 2010, Coweta County Deputy Jeff Bugg experienced an extremely close call when he was nearly run over during a routine traffic stop. Deputy Bugg pulled over a vehicle headed northbound on I 85 and was standing next to the vehicle when a tractor trailer crashed into both cars and kept going. Deputy Bugg was thrown to the ground by the impact, but miraculously escaped serious injury.

The hit and run tractor trailer was later found, parked behind a truck stop, and was charged with DUI drugs, possession of prescription drugs not in original container, leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death, failure to maintain lane, and failure to pull over when approaching an emergency vehicle. That may seem like a lot, and it is, but this driver is lucky he didn’t end up with a vehicular homicide charge. Thankfully Deputy Bugg was not seriously hurt and perhaps this near tragic incident will raise awareness of Georgia’s move over law.

As a Georgia injury lawyer, I’m often surprised by the number of people that have never heard of Georgia’s move over law, O.C.G.A. 40-6-16. Georgia law requires that you move over one lane if possible when approaching stopped emergency vehicles. If you cannot move over you must slow down below the posted speed limit and be prepared to stop. Please protect our officers and move over.

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