In February 2015, two drunk drivers crashed head-on in Staten Island, New York, which left William Cuffee, a passenger in of the driver's vehicles, brain damaged and severely injured. Cuffee's mother, who now cares for her son, recently filed a lawsuit against both drivers, as well as the pair of establishments one driver was drinking in prior to the crash that night.
The drivers each pleaded guilty to separate criminal charges related to the incident. However, when a person convicted on criminal charges caused injury to another person while in the process of committing a crime, a criminal conviction may not be the end of it as they can be sued in civil court as well. Cuffee's mother had to sue on his behalf as the court declared him incapacitated.
Dram Shop Laws
Because drunk driving is such a major on-the-road safety concern, a majority of states have some form of dram shop laws. These laws allow victims of drunk driving accidents to hold alcohol serving establishments liable when patrons are served too much alcohol and allowed to drive away drunk.
These laws not only impose financial liability as a result of an establishment's negligence in allowing a drunk patron to drive, some jurisdictions impose fines, and potential criminal penalties for the employees that serve alcohol to drunk people that later end up on the road. State laws will vary on what must be proven to hold an establishment liable, but it generally involves:
- Proving the establishment sold the person alcohol
- Proving the establishment continued to sell alcohol when the person was drunk
- And sometimes, proving the establishment knew the person was driving
Depending on the jurisdiction, dram shop laws will only extend to protect third parties rather than the drunk drivers themselves. This means that only a third party will be able to hold an alcohol serving establishment liable for injuries caused by a drunk driving patron. However, in a few jurisdictions, under the right circumstances, a drunk driver that injures themselves in a crash may be able to pursue the establishment that got them drunk.
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On December 1, 2016, Lindsey Rietveld was shopping at the Walmart store where she worked in Pella, Iowa, when a Ford F-150 pickup truck came crashing through the front door of the store. The truck struck and killed Ms. Rietveld and two others. As a result of the fatal crash, Rietveld's estate has filed a lawsuit against Walmart, the driver of the truck, and the architectural designer of the front of the store. The lawsuit claims the lack of barriers is to blame for the wrongful death.
The driver of the truck told police that he choked on a sip of coffee, passed out, and woke up after crashing through the front of the store. As a result of suffering the medical emergency, the driver was not charged criminally.
Liability for Cars Crashing Into Stores
While the civil suit alleges that the driver of the vehicle was negligent in causing the accident, the theory of liability against Walmart and the architectural firm are a little different. Generally, stores can be held liable on a premises liability theory of negligence when an injury occurs in an area controlled by the store, including sidewalks, parking lots, or anywhere else the store controls or maintains. In short, stores are required to make sure their premises are safe for customers. Providing safe premises means not just protecting against obvious causes of injuries, like wet floors and falling debris, but also protection against any kind of foreseeable injury.
While it may seem random, the type of injury accident that occurred in the Pella Walmart is not completely unusual. In fact, many stores routinely install barriers or objects specifically designed to stop out of control vehicles from crashing through a store's door. Some states even require these sorts of barriers for stores in certain locations, or with exclusive parking lots.
A rather similar accident happened last year in Springfield, Massachusetts. In that case, a man had a stroke and crashed through a grocery store's door, killing only one person. That case resulted in a $30+ million verdict. The jury found that the grocery chain had the resources to install safety barriers, and failed to do so despite the obvious risk.
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Boats, many of which lack brakes, seat belts, and airbags, can be just as dangerous as cars. And a recent lawsuit in Washington details just how dangerous they can be.
The surviving family members of a man who drowned in a boating accident at Lake Coeur d'Alene last summer claim the man piloting another boat wasn't paying attention after dark and plowed right through a stationary boat, killing three people. The wrongful death lawsuit also claims the man behind the wheel, Dennis Magner, lied to investigators about who was driving at the time of the crash.
Right of Way on the Water
Boating accidents are, tragically, easily avoidable. Boating sober, within posted speed limits, and only in safe weather conditions can prevent most boating accidents. And keeping a close eye out for other boaters is absolutely essential.
Justin Lurh and two of his friends were drifting in a stationary boat when Magner's Mastercraft collided with it last August, according to the lawsuit. The impact threw the three men into the water, where they drowned. Boating law requires moving boats to yield to stationary boats, and the lawsuit alleges Magner's boat was up on a plane at the time of the crash.
"[W]hat we're looking at is that it was a head-on collision," said Kootenai County Sheriff's Lieutenant Stu Miller, while investigating the crash. "The bows of both boats came into contact with each other."
There are generally three main elements to a successful wrongful death suit:
- The death of a human being;
- The death was caused by another's negligence, or intent to cause harm; and
- The survival of family members suffering monetary injury as a result of the death.
Justin Lurh left behind a wife and two children, and Bill Gilbert, the attorney representing them, believes Magner was negligent the night of the accident. "They weren't out there paying attention, worried they might run into somebody," Gilbert told Spokane's KXLY. "Again, it was after dark. They probably didn't think anybody was on the water. But you still have to pay attention, especially after dark."
The Lurh's lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages to compensate for Justin's death.
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