A local man faces multiple charges after he was allegedly intoxicated when he caused a fatal multi-car collision on eastbound Interstate 26.
Authorities and witnesses state that 56-year-old Dale Yarborough was speeding when he merged onto the Cosgrove Avenue off ramp on I-26. He apparently plowed through three vehicles, one of which careened across Cosgrove and struck another car head-on. Nine-year-old Da’Vieona Hamilton, a passenger in one of the vehicles, was killed. Mr. Yarbrough was transported to a local hospital along with several other victims, and because his speech was slurred and he smelled strongly of alcohol, officers arrested him and charged him with reckless driving and felony DUI with great bodily injury. He was held without bond.
Mr. Yarbrough allegedly told investigators that he remembered driving and crashing but recalled almost nothing else.
First Party Liability in Alcohol Crashes
Despite a years-long crackdown on “drunk drivers” that has involved tougher laws, more aggressive prosecution, and more invasive enforcement measures, alcohol is a factor in about a third of the fatal car crashes in America. Victims in these crashes can establish liability through either direct or circumstantial evidence, and the rules in civil court help immensely in both cases.
If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) was arrested for DUI, the negligence per se (negligence “as such”) shortcut is available in civil court. Instead of proving four elements (duty, breach, cause, and damages), victims in negligence per se cases must only establish:
- Statutory Violation: In South Carolina, both criminal infractions, like DUI, and non-criminal infractions, like speeding, create an absolute presumption of negligence.
- Cause: There must be a direct link between the legal violation and the victim’s damages.
Also according to South Carolina law, negligence per se raises a presumption in favor of punitive damages. These additional damages are designed to punish the tortfeasor and deter future wrongdoing. To receive punitive damages, the plaintiff must introduce clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor intentionally disregarded the safety or property of others. A cap may apply, in some situations.
Many times, as in the above story, the tortfeasor is physically incapable of providing a breath or blood chemical specimen, so both negligence plaintiffs and state prosecutors must rely on circumstantial evidence. In criminal court, it is difficult for prosecutors to win such cases, because they must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But in civil court, plaintiffs must only establish impairment by a preponderance of the evidence, and there is a significant difference.
Drivers are normally not intoxicated until they have consumed multiple drinks, but impairment begins at one drink, in most cases. So, if there is evidence that the tortfeasor had been drinking, the jury can conclude that the tortfeasor was impaired. Moreover, because of the lower standard of proof, traditional circumstantial evidence carries much greater weight in civil court. These items include:
- Erratic driving,
- Odor of alcohol,
- Slurred speech,
- Unsteady balance, and
- Bloodshot eyes.
In civil court, plaintiffs must establish impairment by a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not.
Third Party Liability in Alcohol Crash Cases
Regardless of the facts, nearly all alcohol-related car crash cases involve some form of third party liability.
In criminal court, a person who drives a getaway car or serves as a lookout is just as guilty as the person who robs the bank, and that individual third-party liability is sometimes present in negligence cases as well. For example, if Richard Roommate helps Teddy Tortfeasor temporarily disable an ignition interlock device, or if Richard breathes into the device for Terry so the car will start, Richard may be liable for damages along with Teddy if Teddy injures or kills someone in a car crash. Individual third party liability also attaches if Richard hosted a party where alcohol was served, and an alcohol-impaired Terry later caused a car crash; in this case, Terry would have to be younger than 21.
South Carolina also has a broad dram shop law that holds bars, restaurants, convenience stores, and other commercial alcohol providers liable for damages in similar situations. The plaintiff must establish:
- Illegal Sale: In South Carolina, it is illegal to sell alcohol to minors or adults who are visibly intoxicated.
- Foreseeability: State courts have consistently held that it is foreseeable that a person who drinks at a bar or restaurant might crash into another car, and it is also foreseeable that someone who buys packaged alcohol, like a six pack of beer, will open a container, drink on the way home, become impaired, and hit someone.
In the Palmetto State, damages are apportioned among multiple parties depending on their degree of responsibility, in most cases. These damages include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills and lost wages, as well as noneconomic damages, including loss of enjoyment in life and emotional distress.
Reach Out to an Assertive Attorney
Victims in alcohol-related crashes have multiple legal options. For a free consultation with an aggressive personal injury lawyer in Charleston, contact David Aylor Law Offices today, because you have a limited amount of time to act.