A woman had a BAC level more than four times the legal limit when she drove the wrong way on Camino Del Norte and smashed into another vehicle.
Prosecutors allege that 34-year-old Alexandria Bayne started drinking at home about twenty-four hours prior to the crash, later went out for brunch where she consumed more alcohol, then continued drinking at a friend’s house later that day. When her daughter started making calls that evening to find her mother, another friend reported that Ms. Bayne was drinking at her house. As a result, she had a BAC of .35, over four times the legal limit, when she crashed head-on into 38-year-old Sarita Shakya, who was returning home from her shift at Scripps Health. Ms. Shakya was killed almost instantly; Ms. Bayne suffered serious injuries and was later arraigned in her hospital bed.
Ms. Bayne, who had two prior DUIs, now faces multiple felony charges, including felony child endangerment and DUI manslaughter.
Car Crashes and Alcohol
Authorities have been cracking down on “drunk drivers” for many years, through both aggressive law enforcement techniques, such as DUI checkpoints, and stricter laws, like a lower BAC limit. Even still, impaired driving is a serious problem in California. In fact, at least sixteen people died in alcohol-related crashes during 2016 in the San Diego area alone, and that is one of the highest alcohol-related crash fatality rates in the country. That total will probably increase, after the San Diego County Sheriff and other law enforcement agencies release their 2016 data. One of the worst such crashes in recent memory occurred in October 2016, when an intoxicated sailor drove off a ramp and into a crowd of people, killing four individuals.
While the casualty count was not as high, the above-described crash is no less disturbing. As a rule of thumb, most people are barely conscious once their BAC exceeds .30, so as tragic as it was, this incident could have been much worse.
Fact-Based Liability in Alcohol-Related Crashes
Largely because of the relatively low standard of proof in civil court, victim/plaintiffs have a number of ways to establish liability. In fact, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) does not need to be convicted of DUI, or even charged with this offense, to be liable for damages.
DUI collision cases are rather hard to prove in criminal court, mostly because if the tortfeasor was seriously injured, there is usually no breath test, no field sobriety tests, or other direct evidence of intoxication. So, prosecutors have to depend on circumstantial evidence, such as:
- Erratic driving,
- Odor of alcohol,
- Slurred speech, and
- Bloodshot eyes.
At best, such circumstantial evidence is quite weak and probably only points to consumption of alcohol, and in criminal court, that is simply not enough evidence. But impairment starts with one drink, so if victim/plaintiffs establish consumption, that is equal to impairment as a matter of law and science.
Ordinary damages in car crash cases include compensation for economic losses, including medical bills, and noneconomic losses, including pain and suffering.
In California, tortfeasors who are legally intoxicated are liable for damages as a matter of law, thanks to the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) doctrine. This rule applies if the tortfeasor:
- Violated a safety statute, and
- That violation substantially caused the harm.
Other than a legal excuse, and there is normally never an excuse for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, contributory negligence is basically the only defense in these cases. Comparative fault may reduce the amount of damages that the tortfeasor must pay but hardly ever forgives negligence entirely, especially because of the way the law is written in California.
Strict liability essentially creates a presumption for additional punitive damages. To win this added compensation, the victim/plaintiff must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the tortfeasor intentionally disregarded a known risk and endangered the safety and/or property of innocent people.
Third Party Liability
Based on the tortfeasor’s extremely high BAC level in the above case, she was probably already intoxicated, or at least impaired, at brunch. Although California lawmakers recently gutted the state’s dram shop law, unless the tortfeasor is a minor, negligent undertaking is still a plausible theory in many cases. The elements are:
- The bar, restaurant, party host,or other alcohol provider voluntarily took on a certain responsibility, and
- A failure to exercise reasonable care increased the risk of harm, or
- The tortfeasor relied on the bar’s promise of help.
Assume the restaurant owner took the tortfeasor’s car keys because she was too drunk to drive, but the owner left her keys unattended, and she later caused the car crash. Under these facts, the owner may be partially liable for the victim’s damages.
For prompt assistance with a negligence claim, contact an experienced San Diego personal injury attorney from the Injury Trial Lawyers, APC today, because you have a limited amount of time to act.