Proof In Alcohol-Related Car Crashes
One of the most salient facts in this area is that the standard of proof in civil court is a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not. Picture two equally-full buckets of water sitting side by side. If a person adds an eyedropper-full of water to the bucket on the left, it contains more water than the bucket on the right, and that is the picture of “more likely than not.”
So, in a negligence case, the plaintiff does not have to “prove” anything. Instead, the plaintiff simply has to convince the jury that its version of events is more credible than the defendant’s perspective.
First Party Liability
The burden of proof is also lower in civil court, a fact which has major implications for alcohol-related car crash cases. In criminal court, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant was intoxicated, which usually involved a complete use of normal mental or physical faculties. But in civil court, the plaintiff must only prove that the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was impaired.
In most cases, impairment begins at one drink. Any amount of alcohol impairs judgement and motor skills, making it dangerous to operate a motor vehicle. If the plaintiff proves that the tortfeasor had been drinking, the jury can conclude that the tortfeasor was impaired. In fact, if the plaintiff proves that the tortfeasor had visited a place where alcohol is served, the jury can conclude that the tortfeasor had been drinking and therefore was impaired.
There is often direct evidence of impairment as well. Such evidence includes:
- Slurred speech,
- Unsteady balance,
- Odor of alcohol, and
- Bloodshot eyes.
These items may be insufficient to establish intoxication in criminal court, but they are clear evidence of impairment in civil court.
A breath or blood BAC test is also admissible in civil court as evidence of impairment. Bear in mind that even if the defendant “passed” the test and was not legally intoxicated, any BAC above .01 is evidence of impairment.
Third Party Liability
Florida has a rather limited dram shop law that makes bars, restaurants, hotels, and other “dram shops” liable for damages that their alcohol-impaired patrons cause if the patron was:
- Under 21, or
- “[H]abitually addicted to the use of any or all alcoholic beverages.”
The first bullet is known as a “strict liability” matter. The patron was either older or younger than 21, and that is the end of the inquiry. It is not a defense that the patron appeared to be older. The second bullet is harder to establish. Prior DUI arrests and other public records are evidence of alcoholism, but such proof does not satisfy the knowledge requirement. The owner or server must know that the tortfeasor has an alcohol problem for liability to attach.
Reach Out to Experienced Attorneys
For prompt assistance with a car crash or other negligence claim, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Port St. Lucie. At Eighmie Law Firm, P.A., we do not charge upfront legal fees in personal injury matters.