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Liability In Substance Abuse-Related Car Wrecks


The legalization of marijuana has led to an increased number of “stoned driving” collisions. Since many drivers aren’t tested for drugs, observers believe the official number might be vastly understated. Pot is by far the most common substance. Prescription opioid painkillers are second. Street drugs, like cocaine and heroin, and some over-the-counter medicines, like NyQuil, are in the mix as well.

All these drugs have common effects. They slow reaction time and impair judgement ability. So, drugged drivers are unable to react to changing situations and often take unnecessary risks behind the wheel. This combination is incredibly dangerous.

If a stoned driver caused a crash, a Tampa car accident attorney can often obtain substantial damages in court. These damages usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages are sometimes available as well, in some extreme cases.

Negligence Per Se

Essentially, negligence is a lack of care. In many vehicle collision claims, a safety law establishes the standard of care. Drivers must stop for red lights, operate under the speed limit, and the list goes on.

If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) violated a penal safety law, such as the DUI-drug law, the tortfeasor could be liable for damages as a matter of law. If the tortfeasor violated a non-penal safety law, negligence per se is a presumption of liability in Florida. Victim/plaintiffs must introduce additional evidence to obtain maximum compensation.

This compensation is often rather high in negligence per se claims. Arguably, these drivers knew they shouldn’t get behind the wheel. Yet they drove anyway and intentionally put other people at risk.

Ordinary Negligence

In Florida, people are intoxicated due to drug use if they have lost the normal use of their mental or physical faculties. That danger level usually requires drug abuse, such as smoking an entire joint or taking more than the prescribed amount of pain medication. But the impairing effects of drugs usually begin with the first puff or pill.

A drug’s initial impairing effects are often almost debilitating. For example, marijuana users are almost comatose after a few puffs, but the effect quickly wears off. Alcohol works the opposite way. Alcohol impairment gets worse over time.

Therefore, any drug use, even if it’s legal, is dangerously impairing if the person gets behind the wheel. Evidence of drug impairment includes:

  • Erratic driving prior to the wreck,
  • Physical symptoms, such as glassy eyes,
  • Open medicine containers in the car,
  • Current prescriptions, and
  • Tortfeasor’s statements about drug use.

The burden of proof in an ordinary negligence claim is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, a little evidence goes a long way in these cases.

Connect with a Dedicated Lawyer

Drugged driver crash victims usually have multiple legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Tampa, contact Mark H. Wright, PLLC. Virtual, home, and hospital visits are available.


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