The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
A Buffalo, MN Car Accident Lawyer Examines the Five Types of Driving Impairment
July 13, 2019
Typically, vehicle collisions are not “accidents.” Certainly, there are times when a victim is in the wrong place at the wrong time. In a few other instances, drivers let down their guard for a moment, and tragedy ensues. But for the most part, people accidentally forget to adjust the thermostat. They do not accidentally drive drunk and smash into other vehicles. Indeed, according to the National Institutes of Health, impaired drivers cause about half the vehicle collisions in Wright County.
Few things turn lives upside-down faster than serious car crashes. Medical and other bills immediately begin mounting when the victim is not working. Meanwhile, the physical and emotional pain and suffering seem endless and ever worsening. Making matters worse, insurance company adjusters call constantly with settlement terms.
Buffalo, MN car accident lawyers take care of all these issues. They make sure victims get the medical attention they need. Lawyers also handle all negotiations with the insurance company.
Perhaps most importantly, a Buffalo, MN car accident lawyer can obtain substantial compensation in these cases. This compensation is usually higher if one of the five types of driving impairment caused the wreck.
Inattentive driving is the newest addition to the NIH’s impairment list. Distracted driving is not just a physical matter. Like drugs, alcohol, and fatigue, distracted driving affects a tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) mind. Most people multitask their way through the day. But safe driving requires focus. Anything that affects that focus is dangerous.
Hands-free cellphones are a good example. Many people think these devices are not distracting at all. True, they are not physically distracting, because drivers keep both hands on the wheel. But hands-free devices are mentally distracting. Drivers think about their conversations, so they are not 100 percent focused on the road. Moreover, hands-free gadgets usually give people a false sense of security. As a result, they take more chances than they should.
In Minnesota, distracted driving could be negligence per se, which is a violation of a safety law, or ordinary negligence, which is a lack of care.
The Gopher State has a narrow cellphone ban. It applies to talking and texting. Therefore, if tortfeasors use their phones for such purposes and cause crashes, they may be responsible for damages as a matter of law.
But for the most part, Buffalo, MN car accident lawyers pursue ordinary negligence claims in this area. Using a hand-held cellphone for web surfing, game playing, picture taking, and any other activities probably constitute a lack of ordinary care. The same thing applies to hands-free cellphone use. If a lack of care substantially caused injury, the tortfeasor may be responsible for damages.
Almost every driver in Wright County has a cellphone, and many drivers also suffer from serious chronic illnesses. These conditions include things like:
Heart disease, and
Neurocardiogenic or vasovagal syncope (sudden fainting syndrome).
People with these conditions, and others like them, should not drive. However, many chose to do so anyway. In so doing, they intentionally put other people at risk.
Since this substance clouds judgment ability and impairs motor skills, alcohol causes about a third of the fatal traffic collisions in Buffalo. Additionally, this impairment begins with the first drink. So, many people feel like they can drive, yet they are dangerously unfit to safely operate heavy machinery.
In court, there are basically two ways victim/plaintiffs can establish alcohol impairment by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). These approaches are:
Direct Evidence: If the tortfeasor was arrested for DUI, the aforementioned negligence per se doctrine applies. The tortfeasor may be liable for damages as a matter of law, even if a Buffalo, MN car accident lawyer beats the DUI in criminal court.
Circumstantial Evidence: People are intoxicated after three or four drinks, but impaired after the first drink. So, in non-DUI claims, circumstantial evidence of impairment includes bloodshot eyes, odor of alcohol, and erratic driving.
Additionally, Minnesota has a very broad dram shop law. Victim/plaintiffs can use this circumstantial evidence to pin liability on the bar, restaurant, or other commercial provider which sold alcohol to the tortfeasor. It’s illegal in Minnesota to sell alcohol to individuals who are obviously intoxicated.
Drowsiness and alcohol affect the brain the same way. In fact, driving after eighteen hours without sleep is like driving with a .05 BAC level.
Fatigue and alcohol impairment have something else in common. There is no quick fix for either condition. Only time cures alcohol impairment, and only sleep cures fatigue. Quick fixes for both these conditions, like drinking coffee, usually either do not work at all or only work for a few minutes.
Drowsy driving is not illegal, so Buffalo, MN car accident lawyers always pursue ordinary negligence claims in this area.
Pretty much any adult can purchase alcohol or stay up too late watching Netflix. Similarly, pretty much any adult has access to impairing drugs. These substances are not limited to street drugs, like heroin and cocaine. Many prescription painkillers are just as powerful, or even more powerful, than heroin. Some over-the-counter medicines, like Sominex, are not as strong, but still impairing.
The DUI law prevents “drugged” driving along with drunk driving, so the negligence per se doctrine may apply. In other cases, the aforementioned circumstantial evidence of impairment may be relevant. Other circumstantial evidence of drug impairment includes current prescriptions, open pill bottles in the vehicle, and the tortfeasor’s voluntary statements about drug use.