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Can a Defendant’s Prior Drug Use Complicate an Alabama Car Crash Claim?

Posted on November 8, 2018

When an Alabama driver suffers injuries and property damage in a car accident, the injured driver’s first step in recovery is determining if any other party bears liability for the accident. If another driver definitively caused the accident, the injured driver can recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiff will need to provide evidence the defendant was negligent and that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s damages.

If the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash, Alabama courts will generally consider drug and alcohol use as clear evidence of recklessness in most cases. If a police officer responds to a car accident site and has any probable cause to believe an at-fault driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the officer will likely issue a chemical test. However, it’s possible for a driver to have drugs in his or her system at a detectable level without experiencing any effects of those drugs at the time of the drug test.

Drug Use and Driving Ability

Some types of illegal drugs are long-acting and produce euphoria; other symptoms last for several hours following a dose. Other drug effects fade more rapidly. For example, smoking marijuana generally results in several physiological effects such as tiredness, slower reaction time, cognitive distraction, and euphoria that can all impact driving ability. These effects only last for a few hours, but the drug may remain detectable in the user’s system for a month or longer.

If the marijuana user drives the day after smoking and causes an accident due to negligence, he or she won’t still be under the influence of the drug, so should his or her marijuana use affect a future lawsuit if the driver tests positive for marijuana during a chemical test?

In many cases, a plaintiff’s attorney will want to admit the defendant’s prior drug use into evidence in the subsequent personal injury lawsuit. However, the plaintiff’s attorney will need to provide evidence that the defendant’s drug use affected the driver at or near the time of the accident.

Negligence and Civil Liability

If one driver causes an accident with another, the at-fault driver is responsible for the other’s property damage, bodily injuries, and other damages resulting from the accident. Depending on the nature of the accident, both parties could potentially share liability for the damages if an investigation shows the injured driver was also negligent in some way. The severity of an at-fault driver’s negligence can impact a trial result as well.

In a personal injury case for a car accident caused by negligence, the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s compensatory damages such as medical expenses, lost income, property damage, and pain and suffering. However, if there is evidence that the defendant was grossly negligent, criminally reckless, or otherwise acted outside the scope of typical negligence, the jury reviewing the case may award punitive damages as well.

Punitive Damages

As the name implies, punitive damages exist to punish defendants financially and discourage similar behavior in the future. The amount a plaintiff receives in punitive damages typically depends on the personal wealth of the defendant. Wealthier defendants generally pay more in punitive damages so the court can be certain they feel the economic impact, but state laws may cap punitive damages in some cases.

If there is any evidence that shows an at-fault driver was under the influence of alcohol or an illegal drug at or near the time of the accident in question, it is very likely the defendant will face criminal charges in addition to a civil suit from the injured driver. The results of a chemical test will show which drugs were in the at-fault driver’s systems and investigators can determine how long the effects lasted and whether they impacted the at-fault driver’s driving ability. The defendant will likely owe punitive damages as drug use prior to driving can fit the legal definition of intentional recklessness or criminal negligence in Alabama. Contact our Birmingham car accident attorneys today.