Before the coronavirus pandemic, drug and/or alcohol impairment was a factor in almost half of vehicle collisions in Georgia. This proportion increased during 2020. Drug use, particularly antidepressant use, went up during the lockdowns. At the same time, DUI enforcement dropped off significantly. Bad habits, such as driving while impaired, have persisted even as lockdowns ended.
Compensation is often rather high in substance impairment wrecks. Arguably, these individuals know they should not get behind the wheel. Instead, they knowingly endanger lives and property by driving. Additionally, these wrecks have high catastrophic injury and fatality rates. Moreover, in addition to high compensatory damages, a Marietta personal injury attorney can often obtain punitive damages in these cases as well.
First Party Liability
Victim/plaintiffs may use direct or circumstantial evidence to establish first party liability (responsibility for damages) in drug or alcohol impairment cases.
Georgia has a very broad DUI law. It is unlawful to drive under the influence of alcohol and most drugs, be they legal or illegal. Since emergency responders aggressively enforce the DUI law, they usually issue citations if possible. If that is the case, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) could be responsible for damages as a matter of law. The negligence per se shortcut applies if:
- The tortfeasor violates a safety law, and
- This violation substantially causes injury.
Negligence per se could apply in a number of other wrecks as well, such as most speed-related collisions. However, emergency responders often do not issue citations in non-DUI situations, even if someone was killed. To many emergency responders, these wrecks are civil matters that should not involve the criminal law process.
Many drivers are not legally intoxicated. But they are dangerously impaired. Usually, alcohol or drug impairment starts with the first sip, pill, or puff. Evidence of excessive substance use usually includes physical symptoms, such as:
- Bloodshot eyes,
- Slurred speech,
- Unsteady balance, and
- Slow motor reflexes.
Other evidence of alcohol or drug impairment includes erratic driving before the wreck, open or empty containers in the car, and the tortfeasor’s statements about alcohol or drug use.
The burden of proof in a civil claim is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, a little evidence of impairment in a car crash claims goes a very long way.
Third Party Liability
The aforementioned physical symptoms could also establish dram shop liability for alcohol providers. Section 51-1-40 of the Georgia Code makes it illegal for restaurants, clubs, and other commercial alcohol providers to sell alcohol to underage patrons and any patron in a “noticeable state of intoxication.”
Dram shop liability is especially important in catastrophic injury and wrongful death claims. Georgia has one of the lowest auto insurance minimum requirements in the nation. So, many drivers do not have enough insurance coverage to provide fair compensation in these accidents.
Vicarious liability is a bit more difficult to prove in drug impairment wrecks. Most people are not visibly intoxicated when they purchase prescription or other drugs. Additionally, foreseeability (possibility) is not easy to prove in these matters.