On Monday, August 28, 2015, a Geneva County jury awarded $3.8 million in damages to three people who were struck by a car driven by a “buzzed” driver. The accident occurred on October 15, 2013. Randell and Donna Heard were driving from Hazel Green, Alabama to Panama City Beach, Florida when 16-year old, Timothy Joel Thomas, ran a stop sign and crashed into their vehicle. The collision seriously injured Randell and Donna Heard as well as a 16-year passenger in Thomas’ vehicle.
During trial, Thomas testified that he may have consumed between one and three tallboys before getting in the vehicle and driving down the road. The evidence proved that Thomas’s blood alcohol content at the time of the accident was .059, which is well under the legal limit to charge Thomas with Driving under the Influence (“DUI”). In Alabama the legal limit of intoxication for a DUI depends on the person’s age. For anyone that is under the age of 21, such as Thomas, the legal limit for a DUI is having a blood alcohol content of .02% or higher. For anyone 21 years of age or older the legal limit is .08% or higher. Therefore, although Thomas did not face criminal charges for DUI, he still faced civil liability for the damages that he caused by driving buzzed. Generally, buzzed driving is classified as driving with a blood alcohol content between .01 to .07, and although technically you may be under the legal limit, driving while buzzed can be just as dangerous as driving while drunk.
In fact, the attorney’s representing the 16-year old passenger of Thomas’ car stated that “buzzed driving” played an integral part in the case. After deliberating for less than an hour and a half the jury found Thomas liable and returned a $3.8 million verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. Randell Heard received $850,000 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages. Donna Heard received $450,000 in compensatory damages and $750,000 in punitive damages. The 16-year old passenger received $500,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. This case stands as a reminder that even though you may not feel intoxicated, if you are going to drink, drink responsibly, because under the law in Alabama if you drive buzzed you may be subject to civil liability.
Even though buzzed drivers can be subject to civil liability, it is not stopping drivers from having a few drinks and getting behind the wheel. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) did a study on drunk driving in Alabama. The study revealed that about one out of three traffic deaths in America involve a drunk driver. In Alabama specifically, from 2003 to 2012, 3,190 people were killed in car wrecks involving a drunk driver. Recently another study was conducted which showed that in 2014 there were 260 deaths that were the result of drunk driving accidents. Those 260 drunk driver fatalities account for 30.5% of the total traffic fatalities in the State of Alabama for 2014, which is an 8.3% increase from 2013. Drivers who are buzzed or over the legal limit are more likely to be the sole blame for fatal car crashes than sober drivers. A recent study, found that there is no dramatic change between buzzed driving and drunk driving. Meaning that as between a driver that is buzzed and driver that is over the legal limit there was no drastic change in drunkenness or no swift downturn in driving skills. This just goes to show that there is no safe combination of drinking and driving. At no time is it safe to consume alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car. Buzzed driving can be just as dangerous as driving while drunk. So if you are going to drink, drink responsibly. Call a taxi cab, have a designated sober driver, or just stay home.
The law firm of Hollis Wright is currently representing numerous victims who have been injured as the result of a drunk driver. If you or a loved one believe you have been harmed by a drunk driver, contact the firm of Hollis Wright for more information and evaluation. And remember, buzzed driving is still drunk driving.