Articles Posted in Alcohol and Auto Accidents

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Drunk driving is a serious concern throughout the country, but the issue is even more concerning in Texas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 13,138 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver in Texas from 2003 to 2012. The rate of drunk driving deaths was higher in Texas than the national average across all age groups, according to data from 2012. In addition, the percentage of adults who reported driving after drinking too much was higher in Texas than nationally.The CDC recommends that states have harsh drunk driving laws, including zero-tolerance laws, sobriety checkpoints, and ignition-interlock devices installed on cars for all offenders, as well as mass-media campaigns and school-based instructional programs, among other strategies.

Texas DUI Law

All states have drunk driving laws in place to protect the public from drunk drivers. In Texas, the state’s blood-alcohol limit is 0.08% for individuals 21 and older, and 0.04% for commercial drivers. Additionally, there is a zero-tolerance law in effect for individuals younger than 21 years old. Being involved in a DUI accident can have devastating consequences, and individuals who are injured in a Texas drunk driving accident may pursue a claim against the drunk driver to recover compensation for their injuries.

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Back in July of this year, three teenagers were involved in a serious Texas car accident after the driver lost control of the vehicle. After losing control of the Nissan Altima, the car veered off the road and into the median, where it slammed head-on into trees that cut the vehicle in half. While the driver survived with relatively minor injuries, both passengers died from the injuries they sustained in the accident.While investigating the fatal accident, police believed the driver to have been under the influence of alcohol. That was confirmed, and the teenage driver was arrested and charged with two counts of intoxication manslaughter. According to a recent news report, authorities have subsequently arrested a 29-year-old gas-station clerk who they believe may have sold the teenage driver fortified wine on the day of the fatal accident. The clerk denies he sold the minor alcohol, claiming that he always checks customers’ identification prior to selling them alcohol.

Dram Shop and Social Host Liability

While the driver involved in this tragic accident may have obtained alcohol from a gas station, more often than not under-age drinkers get alcohol from a friend’s parents or from a bar or restaurant. In some cases, the bartender may be a friend or acquaintance who serves the minor, knowing they are under-age.

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In Dao v. Garcia Ex. Rel. Salinas, a man borrowed the defendant’s car to pick up his friend at a restaurant. The defendant and the man were former roommates, friends, and business associates. On the day that the man borrowed the defendant’s car, she’d had dinner with the man and fallen asleep at his apartment. While she was sleeping, he took her keys and drove her car to get his friend at the restaurant. While at the restaurant, he drank part of a glass of wine, one of several he’d consumed that day.

As the man and the friend left the restaurant in the car, they started to go the wrong way on a one-way street. The man then tried to drive across the street to go into a driveway. At that point, Rojelio Salinas came down the street in his moped, and the defendant crashed into him. Salinas died from his injuries. His estate sued the man, the defendant, the restaurant, and another party for negligence.

Included in the causes of action was a claim against the defendant for negligent entrustment. The jury found that the defendant, the man, and the restaurant were negligent, awarding $737,000 in damages. The jury apportioned damages with 10% to the defendant, 5% to the restaurant, and 85% to the man. The court ordered that the defendant and the man were jointly and severally liable for $700,150. The defendant filed a motion for new trial, which was denied on the grounds that it was against the operation of law.

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Recently, two children from Irving, Texas were killed in a vehicle crash caused by drunk driving. The tragic twist: the intoxicated person behind the wheel was their own mother.

Crystal Suniga, 30 years old, was driving her 2003 Honda Pilot SUV on a Saturday evening, near Gilbert Elementary School, when she lost control of her car. The SUV then slammed into two cars that were parked in the driveway of a nearby home, before rolling over onto its side and coming to rest against the house.

At the time, Suniga was transporting her four children, who were between the ages 10 and 16 years old. Two of her sons, ages 10 and 14, became pinned under the SUV and ended up dying at the scene of the accident. Her other two children, a 16-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, were taken to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. The 16-year old reportedly suffered serious injuries, while the 12-year old’s injuries were considered to be minor. Suniga suffered only minor injuries.

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In a recent tragic episode, three people were killed and two dozen injured after a car plowed into a substantial crowd gathered near an Austin nightclub while the South By Southwest festival was in progress. The driver of the speeding car was allegedly trying to evade the police.

The alleged facts of the situation began just after midnight, when police attempted to stop the driver when he was stopped by a gas station situated near Interstate 35. Then 21-year-old was Rashad Charjuan Owens who was from Killeen, Texas — whom police suspected had been drunk — got into his car and fled authorities. However, Owens went the wrong way down 9th Street in Austin’s downtown. He then blasted through barricades set up by the police and made a right turn onto Red River Street. In the process, he struck several festival goers who had been standing near the Mohawk nightclub following concert at South By Southwest. The car may have been traveling at speeds up to 70 miles per hour.

Police were finally able to reach Owens after his car ran into a taxi and was forced to stop. Owens then allegedly tried to flee the scene, but the police caught him and used Tasers to disable him in a nearby parking lot.

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Last month, this blog discussed the case of Ethan Couch, a 16-year old who drove while intoxicated and killed four people in Tarrant County. Couch’s defense attorneys argued that Couch suffered from “affluenza,” or the inability to know right from wrong due to growing up in a wealthy home where he was given everything he wanted. The Tarrant County judge, Jean Boyd, sentenced Couch to probation rather than jail time, which drew outrage from the victims’ families and the general public. District Attorney Joe Shannon had hoped to persuade the judge to reconsider and give jail time for two intoxicated assault charges.

Instead, Judge Boyd confirmed recently that no jail time would be included in Couch’s sentence. Couch will instead be on probation for 10 years, part of which will be spent in a locked rehabilitation facility that could cost Couch’s parents up to $450,000 a year. During probation, Couch cannot drink alcohol, use drugs, or drive. If he violates the terms of probation, he could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. The hearing was closed to journalists and the general public, so there is no knowing whether Judge Boyd elaborated on her reasons for choosing this sentence.

The tragic accident took place in June 2013, after Couch and his friends had allegedly robbed a Wal-Mart store. The teenagers then piled into Couch’s Ford F-350 pickup truck, with some riding in the truck bed. Couch proceeded to drive at 89 miles an hour down the Burelson-Retta road in southern Tarrant County, with a blood alcohol level of more than three times the legal limit of .08. Couch then struck four people on the side of the road — a mother and daughter who had come to pick up a stranded friend, and a pastor who offered to help. All were killed, and two of Couch’s friends flew out of the truck bed and suffered severe injuries. One is unable to speak or move, while the other suffered broken bones and internal injuries.

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In a recent tragic case, a father is dead and the other family members were critically injured when a car plowed into their car near the Texas Motor Speedway in northern Fort Worth.

The accident happened in the early evening, when a Dodge four-door sedan ran a stop sign and rammed into a Honda carrying a family of four. The Honda rolled into a ditch, killing the father, who was driving the vehicle. Meanwhile, the eight-year-old daughter was described as “combative and disoriented” when pulled from the car and was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center. The girl’s mother and teenage brother were transported to another hospital in the area. Though the brother was initially unconscious when pulled from the vehicle, he was walking around not long afterward.

The occupants of the Dodge sedan were three teenagers, aged 16 through 18. It is unclear at this time what caused them to run the stop sign, whether drugs or alcohol were involved. Though the accident is under investigation, no arrests have been made or charges filed as of yet.

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On December 16, 2011, Sarah Patton filed suit against the Texas Department of Transportation in Jefferson County District Court on behalf of the estate of Pamela Freeman, who was killed in a car accident (Case No. B191-484). The complaint alleged that the Texas Department of Transportation acted negligently by allowing water to accumulate on the roadway because of inadequate drainage. According to the lawsuit, on February 12, 2011, Freeman was exiting Interstate 10 when her vehicle hydroplaned, causing her to leave the roadway and strike a sign and light pole. The accident eventually led to her death several months later.
Patton later amended her complaint, naming both Toyota and APAC-Texas as defendants, and alleging that a design flaw and water left on the road from construction work carried out caused the crash. On October 3, 2013, APAC-Texas filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Freeman’s BAC exceeded the legal limit at the time of accident. The motion also contended that investigating officers at the scene of the accident confirmed that there was no water left on the road from construction and, instead, the accident had resulted from Freeman’s speeding. Based on these facts, APAC argued that it should be dismissed from the case since there was no evidence to support Patton’s claim that APAC was negligent when performing construction work on the road in question. Then, on November 2, 2013, Toyota followed APAC’s lead and asserted that Patton’s amended complaint failed to allege or identify the specific product defect theories or any defective components on Freeman’s vehicle. Ultimately, on November 6, 2013, Patton filed a notice stating that she non-suited all her claims against all defendants, meaning that she released all of the defendants from liability.

As mentioned previously on this blog, unfortunately, in 2012 Texas had the largest increased in fatalities of any state in the country, with an 11% increase in overall traffic fatalities and a 6.6% increase in drunk driving deaths. More specifically, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 1,099 people killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes where a driver was under the influence of alcohol, which accounts for 32.3% of the total number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes. At the same time, there were only five fatalities where defective vehicle products were a contributing factor, and no reported fatalities due to standing water on the road.

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Traffic Fatalities Increased in 2012

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released its 2012 Fatality Analysis Reporting data. Unfortunately, after six consecutive years of declining fatalities on U.S. highways, the data indicates that highway crashes and deaths increased in 2012. Specifically, fatalities increased to 33,561 in 2012, which is 1,082, (or 3.3%) more fatalities than in 2011. In addition, the number of injured persons increased by 145,000 from 2011. Almost three-quarters of the fatalities occurred in the first three months of 2012, and most of those individuals involved in the fatalities were motorcyclists and pedestrians. For the first half of 2013, early estimates on crash fatalities reveal a decrease in deaths for the same time period in 2012.

Notably, the increase in crashes and resulting injuries and fatalities does not appear to be associated with one particular issue, and crashes for some traditional risk factors, including young drivers, actually fell in 2012. Other notable statistics include:

• There were 10 times as many unhelmeted motorcyclist fatalities in states, such as Texas, without universal helmet laws (1,858 unhelmeted fatalities) as in states with universal helmet laws (178 unhelmeted fatalities). These states were nearly equivalent in total resident populations.

• Though fatalities from alcohol-impaired driving increased from 2011 to 2012, fatalities from crashes involving young drivers (16- to 20-year olds) and alcohol decreased by 15%.

• For the past decade, males have consistently made up about 70% of motor vehicle fatalities.

• There was a 3.7% increase in the number of people killed in crashes involving large trucks, and 61% of large-truck occupants killed in 2012 died in single-vehicle crashes.

Overall, while 13 states experienced decreases in overall traffic fatalities and eighteen states experienced decreases in drunk driving deaths, Texas was not part of either group. In fact, Texas had the largest increase in fatalities of any state, with an 11% increase in overall traffic fatalities and 6.6% increase in drunk driving deaths.

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As of September 1, 2013, several new traffic and driving laws went into effect in Texas. It is important for all Texans to become acquainted with the new laws, as individuals who break these laws may face fines, or even prison time. Fortunately, although the laws became effective September 1, 2013, Texas Department of Public Safety troopers are offering a grace period for most of the laws until January 1, 2014 to make sure everyone is aware of the new and amended laws.

The Texas Department of Transportation believes the new laws will provide added protection for people on Texas roadways. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, the fatality rate on Texas roadways in 2012 was 1.41 deaths per hundred million vehicle miles traveled -a 9.3% increase from 2011. In addition, the State of Texas also recently experienced an increase in the number of motor vehicle traffic fatalities. Specifically, the 2012 death toll of 3,399 was an increase of 10.82% from the 3,067 deaths in 2011.

Some new laws for which Texans should be aware include the following:

Cell Phones in School Zones (HB 347): While Texas already prohibits cell phone use behind the wheel in school zones unless the vehicle is stopped or a hands-free device is being used, the new law expands the limitation to include all school property, including parking lots and drop off lanes. Violators of the law will be assessed fines up to $200. Notably, cell phone use is only restricted during the time a reduced speed limit is in effect, generally, directly before and directly after the school day.

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