Articles Posted in Drunk Driving Accidents

drunk drivingRecently, a state appellate court released an opinion in a motor vehicle accident personal injury case that raised an important issue that commonly comes up in Indiana personal injury cases, especially in the common scenario in which an insurance company is involved in defending the lawsuit. The case required the court to decide if an insurance company that wrote a policy for an employer could be liable for an employee’s drunk-driving accident.

In the end, the court held that the insurance policy, which applied to permissive users, did cover the employee’s conduct. Thus, the insurance company was liable for the plaintiff’s myriad injuries.

Case Facts

The plaintiff sustained injuries in a drunk driving accident. The drunk driver was operating a company vehicle when the accident occurred. The plaintiff was successful in a suit against the defendant, and was awarded damages of roughly $1.5 million. However, the defendant was not able to pay the damages award, and so the plaintiff filed a claim to hold the defendant’s employer responsible. Because the defendant’s employer had an insurance policy with uninsured motorist protection, the plaintiff argued that the insurance policy was on the hook for his damages.

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Indiana is among the several states that has a Dram Shop liability statute, which can act to impose civil liability on establishments that serve alcohol to patrons who later leave the establishment and cause a serious accident. Most commonly, Dram Shop cases involve a patron who leaves the establishment and causes an Indiana drunk driving accident; however, the Dram Shop statute is not limited to drunk driving accidents.

Legal News GavelUnder the Indiana Dram Shop statute, an establishment may be held liable for any injury caused by a patron who was served by the establishment. In order to establish liability, the injured party must prove that the establishment knew the patron was intoxicated when they were served, and also the patron’s intoxication was a proximate cause of the accident. A recent case out of Florida illustrates how courts apply Dram Shop statutes to impose liability on establishments that over-serve alcohol.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving husband of a woman who was killed in a drunk driving accident. The driver who caused the accident had just left a golf course, where he played a round while consuming several alcoholic drinks.

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Most people are aware that when a drunk driver causes an Indiana car accident, that driver can be held responsible for any injuries that occur as a result of the accident through an Indiana personal injury lawsuit. What may come as a surprise to some readers is that, under Indiana’s Dram Shop law, if the drunk driver was served by a bar or restaurant to the point of intoxication, that establishment may also be named as a defendant in the drunk driving lawsuit.

Legal News GavelDram Shop laws are present in some form in most states. Essentially, Dram Shop laws allow for victims of a drunk driving accident to hold an establishment that over-served a drunk driver financially responsible for their injuries. In Indiana, an establishment may be liable if the person who served the driver had actual knowledge that the driver was intoxicated. It also must be shown that the driver’s intoxication was the proximate cause of the accident victim’s injuries. When it comes to proving actual knowledge that a driver was intoxicated, courts will look at all of the surrounding circumstances, such as the number of drinks the driver was served, the manner in which the driver was acting, and any eyewitness accounts of the interactions between the driver and employees of the establishment. A recent case out of Florida illustrates how one court applied the state’s Dram Shop law.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the surviving loved one of a man who was killed in a drunk driving accident involving another driver. The at-fault driver had just come from the defendant golf course, where he played a round of golf while enjoying several alcoholic drinks. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the golf course.

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Earlier this month, an Indiana appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving allegations that the plaintiff was seriously injured when he was involved in an accident that was caused by the defendant, who was drunk at the time. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss when previous convictions for driving under the influence are admissible, and if such evidence is admissible, for which purpose the jury may consider it.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving to work when the defendant’s vehicle inexplicably crossed over the center median and collided with the plaintiff’s vehicle head-on. Police arrived on the scene and conducted a blood-alcohol test on the defendant, which revealed he was legally intoxicated. The defendant was subsequently arrested, charged, and convicted for driving under the influence.

The plaintiff later filed a personal injury case against the defendant, seeking compensation for the injuries he sustained in the accident. During the trial, the plaintiff presented evidence of the defendant’s driving history, which contained two prior instances in which the defendant was cited for driving while under the influence of alcohol in 1996 and 1983. The defendant objected to the introduction of this evidence, claiming that it was “more prejudicial than probative” and violated the rules of evidence. The court disagreed and admitted the evidence, and the jury awarded the plaintiff over $1,444,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $182,500 in punitive damages. The defendant appealed.

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Sometimes car accidents are unavoidable. However, in many cases, car accidents can be prevented by taking certain precautions and with the exercise of common sense. In Indiana, the leading causes of car accidents are reckless driving, distracted driving, and intoxicated driving. In each of these situations, a driver has the ability to avoid the risk factors that contribute to the accident.

Legal News GavelIntoxicated driving, in particular, poses a serious threat to Indiana motorists. In fact, there are over 170 fatal traffic accidents each year in Indiana involving alcohol or some other intoxicating substance. While alcohol intoxication is the most common form of intoxicated driving, the law does not distinguish between intoxication by alcohol or intoxication by other substances. Indeed, in Indiana, it is even possible for a motorist to be deemed intoxicated after having taken prescription medication.

When an intoxicated motorist causes an accident resulting in injuries, that driver may be held responsible through an Indiana drunk driving lawsuit. In many cases, the fact that the other driver was intoxicated can make proving allegations of negligence easier for an accident victim, since drunk driving is specifically prohibited by law. While it may make an accident victim’s case easier to prove if the at-fault driver was cited or criminally charged for their conduct, there is no requirement that this be the case.

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Earlier this month, the Nebraska Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Pittman v. Rivera, holding that a bar owner was not liable under a theory of negligence when one of the bar’s patrons struck another customer after being kicked out for being aggressive. The court based its decision on a lack of foreseeability at the time the bar’s management kicked out the at-fault patron.

Legal News GavelPittman v. Rivera

Pittman was struck by Rivera’s vehicle after Rivera was kicked out of the defendant’s bar for being aggressive toward his girlfriend, an employee at the bar. Initially, Rivera left the bar without incident, but then he returned a few hours later and tried to get back into the bar. The bar’s bouncer didn’t allow Rivera back in, and Rivera got back into his car.

Rivera, upset that he was not allowed back in the bar, began driving his car in a fast and reckless manner around the bar, making U-turns and revving his engine loudly. While Rivera was engaging in this reckless behavior, Pittman was outside the bar talking with friends. Unfortunately, Pittman was struck by Rivera’s vehicle and suffered serious injuries as a result. Pittman then filed a negligence lawsuit against Rivera as well as the owners of the bar.

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Drunk driving is one of the leading causes of fatal traffic accidents in Indiana. In fact, so far this year there have been over 5,500 alcohol-related car accidents in Indiana alone. Of those, roughly 2,300 have resulted in injury, and 205 have resulted in death. These figures represent about one-third of all traffic accidents in the entire state.

Legal News GavelWith drunk driving being such a problem in Indiana, the Indiana Legislature took action and passed a Dram Shop Act. Indiana’s Dram Shop Act serves to hold an establishment financially liable when they serve a patron to the point of intoxication, and then that patron causes a car accident. Dram Shop Act cases are most commonly brought against bars but can also be brought against restaurants and even social hosts who provide alcohol to someone who was already visibly intoxicated.

A Recent Example of a Dram Shop Act Case

In Massachusetts, an appellate court recently heard an appeal from a defendant restaurant owner after it was determined by the lower court that the case could proceed to trial. In Bayless v. TTS Trio Corporation, the plaintiff was a woman who lost her father in a single-vehicle car accident after he left the defendant’s restaurant.

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Earlier this month in Miami County, a 10-year-old girl was killed when the car that she was riding in was struck by another vehicle after that driver ran a stop sign. According to one local news report, the accident took place near the intersection of Miami County Road 1200 North and Miami County Road 100 West.

Legal News GavelEvidently, the young girl was riding as a passenger in a Chevy Tahoe being operated by her mother. The two were traveling northbound on County Road 100 West, approaching the intersection of County Road 1200 North. As they approached the intersection, a vehicle being operated by a 37-year-old man from Logansport disregarded a stop sign and proceeded into the intersection. As he entered the intersection, his Dodge pickup truck collided with the Tahoe, causing both vehicles to end up in a nearby field.

The Tahoe rolled at least one time, and the Dodge ended up coming to a rest on its side. The driver of the Dodge was able to climb up through the broken window of his truck and waited for emergency personnel. It was later discovered that he suffered from internal injuries, and he was taken to the hospital. The mother in the Tahoe was also taken to the hospital for her injuries. Sadly, the young girl was pronounced dead at the scene.

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Back on September 22 of this year, two passengers in a van were killed when the van’s tire blew out, causing the vehicle to crash. According to one local Indiana news source, police took the blood of the man who was driving the van and are awaiting the results of those tests to see if criminal charges are appropriate. However, two civil cases have already been filed against the driver by two people who were injured in the accident. Other civil suits may be filed in the near future.

Legal News GavelWhat Caused the Accident?

The van involved in the accident was designed to hold 16 passengers, but authorities reported that there were 24 people inside at the time of the crash. While prosecutors believe that there was some undetermined substance in the driver’s blood, that has not yet been determined at this point.

What is known is that the tire on the van blew out, causing the van to crash. Some of the surviving victims told reporters and police that the driver was drag racing at the time of the accident, and this may have contributed to the accident. There also may be an issue as to the condition of the tire because it was noted that the van was in poor condition generally, with a long wooden board attached to the rear of the vehicle to act as a bumper.

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