Driving while under the influence of drugs is included as a DUI under Massachusetts law and carries the same penalties, civil and criminal. The tragedy that can result when drivers operate their vehicles when drunk or high was highlighted recently in a concluded trial in Worcester. The defendant was allegedly under the influence of marijuana when his Nissan Maxima collided at around 80 mph with the rear of a police cruiser, killing the officer. A nurse testified that the defendant told her that he had a medical prescription for the drug and had fallen asleep before the collision. His doctor said he had had a compulsive episode or seizure just before the collision that was the real reason for the accident. It is not known if the defendant had taken a blood test for the presence of THC in his system or if he had admitted to using marijuana before driving.

While possession of medical marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, driving while under its influence is not. Studies have shown that its use can impair judgment, slow reflexes, and reduce perception/reaction time. It can also make you drowsy. 

Does Being Stoned Infer Liability?

If you were injured in a car accident by a stoned driver, it makes no difference in the amount of damages you may collect although it can act as some evidence of the defendant’s culpability for the accident if liability is disputed. You need to prove in a personal injury car accident claim that the defendant drove negligently and caused the accident as well as provide proof of your injuries and damages. If the accident was your fault but the other driver just happened to be intoxicated or high, it does not shift liability or responsibility to that driver since being stoned did not cause the accident. Although the motorist was negligent for driving under the influence, you still must prove that the at-fault driver was negligent by having failed to stop for a stop sign or red traffic signal, rear-ended you while you were lawfully and safely stopped, was speeding or driving too fast for conditions, made an unsafe lane change, an illegal turn, or was guilty of any other traffic code violation that led to the accident. If the driver was high or intoxicated, that fact might also be used to impugn or challenge the credibility of the motorist if he/she  alleges that you were the one at fault. 

Driving Stoned Can Be Gross Negligence

Like the defendant in the Worcester car accident fatality, a driver faces criminal prosecution if he was high or under the influence along with possible conviction for vehicular homicide or manslaughter if his conduct resulted in a fatality. Driving under the influence is an egregious act, and is considered gross negligence or exhibiting willful indifference to the safety of others. If the family or estate of a person killed by the gross negligence of another person does bring a civil claim, Massachusetts law permits the awarding of punitive or exemplary damages in addition to other damages. Punitive damages are only permitted in death cases in our state.

There are breath and blood tests to detect the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of a person to see if their BAC is at least 0.08%, the level at which you are presumed to be under the influence. But there is no legal limit for how much THC, the substance responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects, that a person must have in their blood that would legally presume that individual to be under the influence of  marijuana and be subject to criminal and civil penalties. The same is true if a blood test detects the presence of cocaine or other narcotics. Further complicating this is the fact that marijuana as well as other drugs can remain in your system for days or well beyond the time when it affected your nervous system or judgment. However, you can be found under the influence even if you refused a BAC test or if subjective tests and observations by experienced and trained police are sufficient to show that you were DUI, regardless if you took a blood test that detected the presence of the drug in your system.

Police at the scene of an accident or when detaining a driver suspected of DUI look for other signs of intoxication or being under the influence such as observing their demeanor and performance on field sobriety tests. A specific test for drugs called the horizontal gaze nystagmus test checks for involuntary twitching in the eyes that is indicative of being under the influence of a drug. 

Further, an officer will typically report that the defendant exhibited glassy, blood shot eyes, slurred speech, confusion, giggling, aggressiveness, hyperactivity, an inability to follow simple instructions or directions, and stumbling while performing coordination tests. A positive blood test can corroborate these observations as evidence of being under the influence. 

Compensation in Wrongful Death Cases

The family of the officer killed in the Worcester car accident case can claim compensation by having the administrator for the decedent’s estate bring a wrongful death claim. Damages can include:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses for emergency services and final treatment and care
  • Lost potential income over the working life of the decedent
  • Loss of the decedent’s love and companionship
  • Pain and suffering of the decedent if he was visibly observed to have suffered prior to his death
  • Punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent

Unfortunately, punitive damages are not covered by auto liability insurance. If the family did receive such an award, they would have to collect it by seizing the defendant’s personal assets such as bank accounts, retirement account, stocks, personal property, and garnishing wages. The family would also have to go to trial to receive an award of punitive damages. 

Retain Worcester Car Accident Lawyer Paul Tetzel

Car accidents can lead to devastating injuries that can affect you and your family for years or over a lifetime. Trust your accident claim to experienced car accident injury lawyer Paul Tetzel who has obtained millions of dollars for his injured clients over his years of practice. Call him today at 617-933-3858 for a free consultation about your accident claim.