A fatal, head-on car crash seriously injured two police officers who were not responding to an emergency at the time. The accident happened on Saginaw Street near the Damon Street intersection. A 57-year-old man driving a Buick Enclave swerved from the northbound side onto the southbound side and hit the patrol car head-on. According to the police car’s Event Data Recorder, the patrol car slowed down in the moments before the collision, but it is unclear if the officer also attempted an evasive maneuver. The Buick driver was rushed to a local hospital, where he was subsequently declared dead.
During the investigation, officers found several empty liquor bottles and a partially-full bottle inside the Buick.
If the negligent actor dies, it is still possible to file a legal claim for damages. The claim usually goes through the probate process. Strict time deadlines apply in these cases. The victim may have as little as one or two months to file a preliminary claim. If the victim misses the deadline, there may be no right to future compensation.
Most drivers are dangerously impaired after just one alcoholic drink. So, it is little wonder that alcohol is a factor in about a third of the fatal car wrecks in Michigan. It is important to establish alcohol-related liability if at all possible. Many Flint jurors take an especially dim view of “drunk drivers,” so they often award substantial damages in these cases.
Sometimes, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was impaired but not legally intoxicated. Other times, as in the above story, police were unable to administer intoxication tests. In these cases, victim/plaintiffs may use circumstantial evidence to establish intoxication. Such evidence includes:
The standard of proof is very low in civil court. Victim/plaintiffs must only establish impairment by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
If the tortfeasor was charged with DUI, the negligence per se shortcut may be available. The tortfeasor may be liable for damages as a matter of law if s/he:
The jury decides all the facts in a Michigan negligence case. So, even if the tortfeasor was not found guilty of DUI, a jury may still decide that the negligence per se shortcut applies.
Michigan has a broad dram shop law. Lawmakers rightly recognize that establishments which illegally provide alcohol should be held responsible for their negligence, just like the law holds the driver responsible.
If the tortfeasor was under 21, the bar, restaurant, grocery store, or other commercial establishment may be liable for damages as a matter of law. The accident need only be a foreseeable result of the alcohol sale.
If the tortfeasor was over 21, the victim/plaintiff must use circumstantial evidence to establish that the tortfeasor was visibly intoxicated at the time of the transaction. The same types of evidence and burden of proof discussed above apply in dram shop matters.
Social hosts may also be liable for damages if their intoxicated guests later cause car crashes. However, the social host liability laws in Michigan are extremely complex.
Alcohol-related crashes often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Flint, contact Nickola Law. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.
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