Can I Be Held Responsible for Letting My Friend Drive Drunk?
Due to an increasing number of drunk driving accidents, many states have cracked down on situations involving drunk drivers. This includes implications for both criminal culpability and civil liability.
Fighting Against Drunk Driving
For many years, the number of drunk driving accidents continued to decline. However, there was a shift in 2015, bringing those numbers up to levels where they had not been for years. Advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving continue to warn the public about the dangers of drinking and driving and to take strides to hold parties responsible for committing and condoning this behavior. A trend at the time of publication is for courts to allow more people to be held responsible on a criminal and civil level for permitting drunk drivers on the road.
Several states allow for the prosecution of third parties who permit individuals to drive their vehicles when they know that the person who is borrowing the car is impaired when these actions result in an accident with another party. One sample law of this nature is Florida’s statute on culpable negligence. This statute allows a person to be charged for a misdemeanor offense of culpable negligence that is punishable by up to one year in jail if a person allows someone to drive their vehicle drunk.
In some cases, a person may be held criminally responsible even if he or she was not actually at the scene of the crime. States may charge for crimes such as reckless endangerment or gross negligence when someone allows another to drive the vehicle knowing that the person was highly intoxicated. The possibility of being held criminally responsible makes it very risky for someone to knowingly allow someone else to drive drunk.
In addition to any criminal responsibility, a person may also be held civilly liable by allowing a person to drive drunk. This is especially true in cases involving wrongful death, which occurs when someone’s intentional acts or negligence leads to the loss of life that would not have occurred without such conduct. Such cases may fall under one of the following frameworks:
Negligence cases are decided on a case-by-case basis. It is up to the fact finder, usually a jury, to decide whether the defendant’s act of not stopping another person from driving was negligent in nature. Negligence cases consist of four elements. The first element is that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty. Absent some special relationship like parent to child or doctor to patient, the duty is to act as a reasonably prudent person. The second element is breach of that duty. Under this element, the plaintiff argues that the defendant had the duty to stop the friend from driving when he or she was obviously intoxicated. The third element is that the breach of this duty was the cause of the injury. The final element is that the plaintiff suffered damages. Damages may include medical expenses, burial expenses, pain and suffering or lost companionship, to name a few. In addition to these damages, a plaintiff may be able to receive punitive damages which are awarded less frequently and are intended to punish the defendant.
This legal theory is based on finding negligence by entrusting a dangerous instrumentality to someone when that person knew or should have known that it was dangerous to do so. In this context, such an argument would say that the dangerous instrument was a vehicle.
Some states permit plaintiffs to sue the host of a social gathering who knew that a guest was intoxicated based under a social host law. This type of claim is based on the idea that a social host should be responsible for his or her guests and should not permit someone to leave impaired and put others at risk after imbibing alcohol provided by the host. Social host laws are similar to dram shop laws that hold bars, clubs and other establishments potentially liable for serving alcohol to an impaired person who ultimately causes an accident.
Individuals who are facing criminal charges or civil liability may choose to consult a lawyer. The consequences of being convicted can result in significant criminal penalties and a civil lawsuit can result in the defendant being held responsible for significant damages. Victims of accidents that involved someone who permitted another person to drive a vehicle drunk may wish to retain their own legal counsel to learn about the possibility of seeking compensation.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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