Authorities believe that a man driving the wrong way on the San Diego Freeway was probably under the influence of drugs when he smashed head-on into another vehicle, killing two brothers and seriously injuring a third person.
The wreck happened on the northbound 405 near the Sepulveda Boulevard exit. According to witnesses and the CHP, Rodney Wright was southbound on the northbound side, and he collided head-on with a Dodge Caravan carrying, among others, 27-year-old Ainsley Hubbard and 31-year-old Aidan Hubbard. Ainsley was pronounced dead at the scene; Aidan initially survived his injuries but later succumbed to his wounds at a nearby hospital.
Mr. Wright, whom authorities say was under the influence of an unspecified drug, was also seriously injured.
First Party Liability in Drug-Induced Car Crashes
These types of matters are among the few cases that are easier to prove in criminal court as opposed to civil court. Normally, the opposite is true, because the burden of proof in criminal court (beyond a reasonable doubt, or a deep and “abiding” conviction that the charge is true) is much higher than the burden in civil court (a preponderance of the evidence, or “more likely than not”).
Although the burden of proof remains the same, there is an extra step in drug-involved car crashes. Under the DUID law (driving while under the influence of drugs), prosecutors must only prove under the influence, but civil plaintiffs must prove that the driver was under the influence of a drug and that condition caused the car crash. Marijuana is a good example. In criminal court, drivers under the influence of marijuana are probably DUID as a matter of law, irrespective of any safety threat they created. But civil plaintiffs must also convince the jury that it is dangerous to drive under the influence of this drug, and the scientific evidence on this point is a little uncertain.
The good news is that plaintiffs must only establish safety hazard by a preponderance of the evidence, so if it is more likely than not that marijuana impairs driving skills, the jury must side with the plaintiff. This lower burden of proof also applies to the physical evidence of impairment, such as:
- Erratic driving,
- Glassy eyes, and
- Drug paraphernalia or open pill bottles.
At best, these items technically only prove consumption. However, if there is evidence that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) consumed drugs, it is clearly more likely than not that the tortfeasor was also under the influence of these drugs.
If the tortfeasor was later convicted of DUID, the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) doctrine makes these cases easier to prove. Essentially, if the tortfeasor violated a safety law and that violation was a substantial factor in causing the damages, the tortfeasor is probably liable as a matter of law. In these instances, the insurance company often argues that the DUID provision is not technically a safety law, because they claim it has little if anything to do with roadway safety. DUID prosecutions also normally involve field sobriety tests and blood tests, and even if the tortfeasor is not convicted, these results may be admissible in a related civil case.
Third Party Liability
Following Abraham Lincoln’s death, Mary Surratt went to the gallows largely because she gave aid and comfort to the conspirators who carried out the crime. The same principle applies in negligence cases, as persons or entities that indirectly contribute to the car crash are liable for damages alongside the tortfeasors.
Individuals who display a lack of ordinary care are often responsible third parties in these cases. This category includes people who:
- Provide the Means: Furnishing drugs to a person, or giving money to a person with the knowledge that it will likely be used on drugs, probably indicates a lack of ordinary care. The same thing applies to a person who introduces someone to a drug supplier or helps the person illegally obtain prescription medicine.
- Provide the Opportunity: Similarly, people who provide drug paraphernalia or a place to use drugs arguably share responsibility for the car crash.
- Provide the Environment: Doing drugs with an individual who later causes a car crash while under the influence arguably results in third party liability.
In all these situations, the car crash must be a foreseeable result of the third party’s misconduct.
Other possible third-party candidates include medical providers whose services fall below the standard of care. Doctors who over-prescribe powerful painkillers are a good example. Recently, in what may be the start of a trend, a Washington city recently sued the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Oxycontin, claiming that Perdue Pharma aggressively marketed the drug, which has basically the same addictive properties as heroin, while ignoring the risks that dependency could cause.
DUID crash victims are usually entitled to significant damages from multiple sources. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles, contact Citywide Law Group today, because you have a limited amount of time to act.