Separate alcohol-involved crashes a few hours and a few miles apart killed two women and seriously injured another person.
In the first incident, an intoxicated woman who went through a stoplight at the intersection of Van Nuys and Victory Boulevards t-boned one vehicle, spun around, and careened into a third vehicle. One victim was pinned inside her vehicle, and first responders later pronounced her dead at the scene. Police speculate that, due to the force of the collision, the intoxicated woman was travelling at full speed when she illegally entered the intersection. A little while later, near the intersection of Woodley Avenue Park and Victory Boulevard, an allegedly intoxicated woman drove off the road, hopped a curb, and smashed into a tree, killing one of the people inside the vehicle.
None of the names were released.
First Party Liability in Alcohol-Involved Crashes
Many people know at least something about the 1990s legal saga of former USC and NFL standout O.J. Simpson, who was acquitted of double murder and later found liable for the wrongful deaths of the same two individuals. The main reason that two different juries looked at essentially the same evidence and delivered two very different verdicts is one of the best illustrations for the different burdens of proof in criminal and civil court.
To use a gross oversimplification, criminal jurors must be convinced that defendants are “definitely” guilty before rendering such verdicts, but civil jurors must only be convinced that tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are “probably” negligent before holding them legally responsible for damages.
As a result, alcohol impairment evidence that probably only lays a foundation in criminal court is normally good enough to build the whole house in civil court. This evidence includes:
- Erratic Driving: There are plenty of reasons people run red lights and make random unsafe lane changes. Perhaps they were lost, maybe they were distracted, or maybe they were impaired.
- Bloodshot Eyes: Similarly, fatigue and exposure to allergens can cause bloodshot eyes, but so can alcohol consumption.
- Odor of Alcohol: Although that telltale smell almost definitely proves consumption, it certainly does not prove intoxication.
If a jury concludes that the tortfeasor was “probably” drinking, the tortfeasor was “definitely” impaired, because in most cases, alcohol impairment begins with the first drink.
Most alcohol-involved crashes feature DUI convictions, because these laws are very aggressively enforced. If that is the case, the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) shortcut often applies. In standard negligence caes that involve the circumstantial evidence discussed above, victims must prove five elements (legal duty, violation of duty, factual cause, legal causation, and damages) to receive compensation. But in negligence per se cases, victims must only show that:
- The tortfeasor violated a safety law, like speeding or DUI, and
- That violation substantially caused the harm.
Note that the victim must not prove that the statutory violation was the only factor in bringing about the harm, but only a substantial one.
In addition to the liability portion, negligence per se often affects the damages portion of the trial as well. Essentially, if the victim proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that the tortfeasor intentionally disregarded a known risk and thereby risked the safety and property of other people, the tortfeasor may be liable for additional punitive damages. This presumption might be especially strong in the above story, because the tortfeasor ran a red light and was intoxicated, and most law enforcement officers consider double violations to be reckless driving. Regardless of punitive damages, car crash victims in California are always entitled to compensation for their economic damages, such as lost wages, and their noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering.
Third Party Liability
Until recently, California had a very strict dram shop law (alcohol was once sold in “drams”) that held commercial alcohol providers liable for damages if their impaired patrons later negligently injured someone in a car crash, assault, or other incident. However, many people had concerns that the broad law diminished personal responsibility for causing car crashes, so lawmakers effectively did away with the dram shop rule.
However, the fact-specific negligent undertaking doctrine is still a viable third-party liability theory in the Golden State. If Brenda Bar-Owner feels that Tammy Tortfeasor is too impaired to drive, Brenda offers to call a cab for Tammy, Brenda subsequently reneges on that promise, and Tammy crashes into Vespa Victim as Tammy tries to drive home, Brenda may be jointly liable for Vespa’s damages. Since there are so many uninsured and underinsured drivers in California, third-party liability theories are often important because they create an additional source of recovery for victims.
Impaired drivers cause many serious car crashes. For a free consultation with an aggressive personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, contact Citywide Law Group. An attorney can help victims obtain ongoing medical care, even if they have no money and no insurance.