Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Liquor Liability - Who's At Fault

The answer, of course, is YOU! If you drink and drive, and you get into an accident; YOU are at fault. Man (or woman) - up!! How many times do we hear stories of someone who says "I only had a couple," and their blood alcohol content is twice the legal limit; and they lost control of their car and smashed into something (or worse -- some one).

That doesn't mean you can't have a beer, get into a car, and drive away. Of course you can. The problem is deciding where the line is. There is no bright line. There is no restrictor that measures your abilities before you get behind the wheel. Everyone has their own threshold. Some people can down a 6-pack without a problem. Others can't drink an ounce without feeling dizzy. It's up to YOU to know your limit; and here's the hard part -- be able to recognize it before you get there.

But I'm not here to talk about the criminal responsibility of a DUI. We'll save that for another chat. Rather, I wanted to talk about the civil liability aspect. First, despite my soapbox, just because you're under the influence doesn't necessarily mean you are automatically responsible for an accident. For example, if you are driving down the road under the influence of alcohol, and you are following all the rules of the road; and someone else is negligent (maybe pulls out in front of you), you are not at fault for the accident. Even if you are rip-roaring bombed!! Of course, you may have difficulty proving you were following the rules of the road since you were blitzed at the time; but that's a separate (albeit important) problem.

But others can share the responsibility for your drunken behavior. For example, the other driver might be at fault. I had a case, recently, where a woman had a couple of drinks after work, and then was heading home. She looked over her shoulder as she merged onto the highway, failing to notice a car that had stopped in the gore point. She ran into the back of the car. And why was there a car stopped in the gore point you might ask? Believe it or not, the driver had pulled into the gore point to allow his teenaged son to take the driver's young toddler son out of the car -- run across the street to the woods -- and go to the "bathroom!" Our client was at fault; and (before coming to me) pled guilty to a DUI. But we were able to convince the other driver's insurance company that he, too, was at fault for stopping in the gore point so his young toddler could relieve himself. That driver's insurance company contributed thousands of dollars to the settlement; monies that the plaintiff (in this case, the 2 minors in the car) would have be hoping to get from my client.

Drinking and driving is a 'no-no!' I'm sure we all can agree on that basic proposition. But options can and do exist ... and are worth exploring when you find yourself on the wrong side of that equation.