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Lowering DUI standard to .05 would affect civil claims for personal injury


What is “negligence per se” as it relates to driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs?

In every jurisdiction in the United States including Rhode Island, the standard for imposing civil liability for monetary damages is whether or not the alleged culpable party was “negligent”. Negligence is defined as the breach of a legal duty which causes damages to another.

If the defendant against whom a civil claim is made violates a statute which is meant to protect a class of persons, their legal duty and breach thereof can be presumed. This is what is known in the law as “negligence per se” (i.e. that the statute provided a legal duty and the violation of the statute is “per se” proof of a breach of duty).

In the case of DUI accidents in RI, CA and other jurisdictions, a criminal finding that the person was, in fact, “under the influence” with a burden of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt”, would be proof positive that they were DUI on the lesser burden of proof which most civil proceedings use which is, “by a preponderance of the evidence.”

If you think of these two burdens as scales, the criminal standard needs to tip the scale quite a bit (maybe three quarters in favor of “guilt”) while the civil scale only needs to be tipped with a feather’s weight more proof than the opposite side of the scale. Therefore, a  Rhode Island and California criminal conviction most often results in “presumed” liability in the civil courts.

What would a lower BAC do to civil claims for bodily injury or property damage in alcohol related crashes?

The intent behind lowering the standard for what it means to be driving under the influence to .05 from .08 is clearly to deter persons further from getting behind the wheel with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system. This may have the intended affect of reducing the number of serious injury accidents including fatalities which would lower the overall number of civil claims related to auto accidents. However, those persons who are involved in car crashes where there is significant property damage or personal injury may also be subjected to tighter scrutiny when it comes to civil liability for incidents where the driver consumed alcohol.

It is estimated by most experts that a single drink within a short amount of time (let’s say an hour or less) prior to getting behind the wheel could give a person a BAC of .05 depending upon some variables such as height, weight, consumption of food and other factors. If the driver is convicted by the criminal standard discussed above, they would most likely be presumed negligent in any civil proceeding and be required to pay civil damages. This may result in more persons being held responsible for payment of medical expenses and pain and suffering related to automobile accidents involving alcohol.

Author: Steven M. Sweat is a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, CA. He is a regular contributor to this and other blogs on legal issues involving car accident and injury claims and criminal law on driving under the influence of alcohol.

If you were a victim of a Drunk Driving Accident in Providence, RI or  any other city or town in Rhode Island (RI) please contact East Providence Personal injury Lawyer, David Slepkow 401-437-1100.

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