Legal Fault In Alcohol-Related Crashes

Although the number has declined in recent years, alcohol-impaired motorists kill about 10,000 people per year, a figure that represents about third of roadway fatalities. Substance-impaired drivers, whether from an illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drug, are almost as dangerous as so-called “drunk drivers.” In all these cases, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) may not be the only party that is responsible for the plaintiff’s damages.

First Party Liability

As a preliminary note, the standard of proof is much lower in civil court than it is in criminal court. To obtain a DUI conviction, the prosecutor must prove that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the motorist was intoxicated. But to prove liability in civil court, the plaintiff must only show that, by a preponderance of the evidence, the motorist was impaired.

“Preponderance of the evidence” means “more likely than not.” Picture two equally-tall stacks of paper side by side. If one sheet of paper is moved from the right to the left, the stack on the left is taller than the one on the right. That image is the essence of a preponderance of the evidence.

Furthermore, there is a difference between “intoxicated” and “impaired.” The former is normally associated with a complete loss of mental or physical faculties, or a BAC of at least .08. But impairment begins at one drink, in most cases, so any evidence that the defendant was drinking is normally sufficient to establish impairment.

Impairment can be established by circumstantial evidence, such as:

  • Bloodshot eyes,
  • Unsteady balance,
  • Slurred speech, and
  • Erratic driving.

If responding officers administer a breath or blood test, the results are generally admissible in civil court, even if the motorist did not have a BAC above the legal limit.

Third Party Liability

Louisiana does not have a dram shop law that holds bars, restaurants, and other commercial alcohol providers responsible for damages if their intoxicated patrons negligently injure other persons. The Bayou State also does not recognize the tort of negligent undertaking, which holds certain social hosts liable for damages in similar situations.

But, a third party remedy may still be available. Under Section 9:2800.1, a third party is responsible for damages in these cases if:

  • Coercion: If a guest or host insists that a person consume “one for the road,” this coercion may be sufficient to establish third party liability.
  • False Representation: In television sitcoms, everyone laughs if a person who believes a beverage to be non-alcoholic becomes impaired. But it is not at all funny if that person negligently injures someone else.

These exceptions normally do not apply to businesses.

Dangerously impaired drivers injure or kill thousands of people every year. For a free consultation with an experienced Lake Charles personal injury attorney, contact Hoffhoss Devall. An attorney can arrange ongoing medical care for victims, even if they have no insurance and no money.