The holidays are behind us and a new year has begun. Unfortunately, the holiday season — and the upcoming Super Bowl weekend — is a time not just for celebration, but for accidents.
An expert interviewed by MarketWatch refers to the period between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, with the addition of Super Bowl Sunday, as the “deadly triangle.” This extended holiday season accounts for a large percentage of alcohol-fueled injuries.
Not all acts of negligence that produce traffic accidents involve alcohol. Texting while driving, running red lights, failing to remove tripping hazards from store aisles, and other careless conduct occurs throughout the year, regardless of the season.
However, when people gather with friends and family to celebrate a holiday or event, adding alcohol to the mix increases the risk that someone will get injured. Alcohol impairs judgment, slows reaction times, and causes drowsiness.
While intoxicated driving is one of the most dangerous acts that often cause injuries, drinking also contributes to the careless handling of explosives, guns, power tools, and other dangerous products. A survey in Scotland found that alcohol consumption was a contributing factor in more than half of all accidental fires.
Holiday Drunk Driving
Educational campaigns against drunk driving have succeeded in reducing the rate of drunk driving fatalities. In the last three decades, deaths caused by intoxicated drivers have decreased by a third. Public awareness of the risks posed by drunk drivers has made responsible individuals more likely to take a cab or rely on a designated driver after consuming too many alcoholic beverages at a holiday party.
Unfortunately, not all drivers are responsible. On average, one person in the United States is killed every 48 minutes by an impaired driver. Drunk driving causes more than 10,000 deaths annually. According to the CDC, 29% of all traffic-related fatalities are caused by impaired drivers.
The number of nonfatal injuries caused by alcohol or drug impairment is difficult to estimate. Fatal accidents are carefully investigated. When an investigation reveals that alcohol is involved, a fatal accident is reported to government databases. Injury accidents involving alcohol are less likely to be recorded.
One study of seven states concluded that almost 13% of all injury accidents, and almost 23% of all traffic accidents causing serious injury, involve alcohol. It is fair to say that tens of thousands of crash injuries every year are caused by impaired driving.
Courts in every state regard drunk driving as an act of negligence. In many cases, courts believe that driving drunk is the kind of reckless conduct that supports an award of punitive damages. Whether or not punitive damages are available, personal injury lawyers can help victims of holiday drunk driving accidents recover compensation for their injuries, including medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and the cost of coping with permanent disabilities. sdlocked0 Li
Social Host Liability
Suppose a drunk driver became intoxicated at a holiday party hosted by an employer or friend. If the driver does not have adequate insurance to provide full compensation for a drunk driving accident, can the accident victim pursue the party’s host?
The answer depends on state law. Legislatures in some states have enacted dram shop laws that govern the liability of a tavern or liquor retailer that sells alcohol to a minor or to a customer who is obviously intoxicated. Some states have expanded those laws to address social hosts who serve alcohol to guests, while other states have enacted laws that protect alcohol vendors and social hosts.
When the state legislature fails to provide an answer, state courts can apply the legal principle of negligence and answer using their own view of public policy. Whether social hosts can be held accountable for drunk driving accidents therefore depends on whether the state legislature and/or state courts place more value on protecting the public from drunk drivers or protecting social hosts from lawsuits.
It is fairly common for states to permit lawsuits to be brought against social hosts when they break the law by serving alcohol to a minor who then gets behind a wheel impaired. Many states also hold social hosts responsible when they serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated guest if they know the guest will be driving after consuming more drinks. Social hosts often have homeowner’s or business insurance that covers those claims.
When state law allows a social host to be held liable for an accident caused by a drunk driver, the accident victim will need to prove specific facts that demonstrate the social host’s negligence. An experienced personal injury attorney who is familiar with state law can help drunk driving victims determine whether a host who served alcohol to a driver at a holiday party can be held responsible.