The family of a 58-year-old grandmother who died in a crash last month has filed a civil injury lawsuit against the 40-year-old driver, a principle at a local high school. They are seeking justice in a case where it seems apparent the at-fault driver won’t face criminal charges for allegedly driving drunk.
The case is an odd one that started when a 5,000-pound truck fell from the sky and on top of the victim’s sport utility vehicle. The mother of four and grandmother of two was traveling home on the highway when the Ford F-150 truck crushed her SUV. The truck was driven by a 40-year-old high school principle. He reportedly struck an impact barrier with such force that it lifted the truck off the ground and made it go airborne, according to Fox News Latino. Defendant and his passengers walked away relatively unscathed with only minor lacerations and bruising.
Police did not charge defendant with DUI. He admitted to investigating officers he’d just left a local tavern, where he’d been with friends. He declined to undergo a breathalyzer test and he refused to undergo a sobriety test. However, at least two officers on scene said he didn’t appear to be drunk. Refusal to submit to a breathalyzer is illegal in Florida due to implied consent laws, but police can’t force anyone to breathe into a machine. Per a U.S. Supreme Court decision (Missouri v. McNeely), police would have to seek a warrant to conduct a blood draw, but they would need probable cause. A prosecutor called to assess the situation found there was not enough probable cause to ask a judge to force defendant to submit a drug sample.
A lawyer for the defendant, meanwhile, insists his client was within his rights to decline, as he did, and that it was construction hazards – not alcohol – that was the main factor in this crash.
There are a few things here that could be relevant in the pending civil case. The first is to know that while it’s obviously better for the civil case if police are able to gather sufficient evidence for a criminal conviction, civil cases adhere to a lesser proof burden. That means even though prosecutors may not be able to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, a wrongful death plaintiff may still be able to prove negligence by a preponderance of the evidence.
Although the criminal and civil cases involve totally separate processes, evidence used in the criminal case can certainly be used to help bolster the civil claim. Proving a driver was drunk makes it much easier to prove negligence. Plus, there is more of a chance in a drunk driving case that a defendant will be on the hook for punitive damages – not just compensatory damages. Also, federal bankruptcy law does not allow damages awarded in a drunk driving lawsuit to be discharged the way other personal injury damages can be.
Still, this case highlights the frustration that can arise when a key piece of evidence in a serious, fatal crash case is left to the on-scene judgment call of the investigating officer. There was a case out of Indiana where this same issue. A 2010 truck crash killed a 65-year-old man. The 65-year-old semi-truck driver refused all chemical tests and sobriety screenings, but showed no obvious signs of impairment. No blood draw was taken. Now, his family recently told NBC-13 they are out to change the state law to make it mandatory to conduct a blood draw of all drivers at the scene of fatal crashes.
Thankfully, the law in Florida is different. State statute allows police to initiate a blood draw against the consent of the subject when:
- There was a death or serious injury.
- A breath or urine sample is impractical.
- Medical records subpoena. (Sample is taken for medical purposes and later subpoenaed by the state.)
If you are seriously injured or a loved one killed by a suspected drunk driver, we can help.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Family of grandmother killed in tragic accident sues local principal, Oct. 6, 2016, Staff Report, Fox News Latino
More Blog Entries:
Deadly Crash Leads to Airbag Lawsuit for 4 Orphaned Sisters, Oct. 17, 2016, Orlando Drunk Driving Accident Injury Lawyer Blog