By: James Davis
If you allow a friend to get behind the wheel after he or she has been drinking you could be held criminally and/or civilly liable if your friend ends up in a fatal crash.
States across the country are beginning to prosecute in situations where someone allows a friend to get behind the wheel when it is clear that the individual is highly intoxicated, and then a crash results in serious injury or death. In Florida, for example, you could be charged with the criminal offense of culpable negligence. Florida Statute 784.05 states, in pertinent part:
“Whoever, through culpable negligence, exposes another person to personal injury commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
Whoever, through culpable negligence, inflicts actual personal injury on another commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.”
If you are convicted of culpable negligence as a first degree misdemeanor you face up to a year in jail. If you are convicted of a second degree misdemeanor you face up to 60 days in jail.
Another example is a recent case in Connecticut in July, showcasing that even more criminal charges can be assigned for a similar situation. Three teenagers were charged with reckless endangerment in the second degree, violation of passenger restrictions, and operating a motor vehicle between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. after one of their teenage friends drove, hit a tree, and died at the scene. Although none of the teenagers whom were charged were physically at the scene, they were held partially responsible as they all were aware that the girl was “highly intoxicated.”
The trend in recent years has definitely been to hold more and more people liable for injuries that occur from drinking and driving. This includes holding people responsible for their actions even if they were not present at the scene of the crime. For this reason, it is even more important that you don’t let a friend drive drunk.
Along with facing criminal charges, you could also face a civil lawsuit if you knowingly allow an intoxicated individual to get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Specifically, you could be named as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit. Florida’s Wrongful Death Act allows survivors of a deceased individual to sue you if they believe that your negligence or wrongful conduct contributed to the death of their loved one. If you knew that a friend was extremely intoxicated and did nothing to stop the individual from driving a vehicle, it could be considered negligence. Negligence is something that can only be determined on a case by case basis, meaning that ultimately a judge or jury would have to decide if your actions, or inactions, constituted negligence. However, if the judge or jury does find that you were negligent, you could face a very hefty monetary damages award.
The compensation the survivors could be entitled to depends on their relationship to the deceased. If the deceased was their child they could be entitled to compensation for mental pain and suffering. If the deceased had children, those children could also be entitled to compensation for mental pain and suffering as well as for lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance. If the friend was married, the spouse can sue for loss of companionship and protection, as well as mental pain and suffering. If the court feels that your actions were intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent, the court could also award punitive damages which are intended to punish you instead of compensate the survivors for their loss.
Letting a friend drive when the friend is visibly intoxicated is more than just irresponsible. In Florida, it may land you in jail or cost you a significant amount of money if that friend ends up injured or dead as a result of a drunk driving accident. Contact the Law Office of James Davis if you have been involved in a Drunk Driving situation.