Drunk or drugged truck drivers pose unnecessary risks to everyone else on the road. They may not respond alertly to their surroundings, or they may make judgment errors due to their reduced capacity. Many truckers abuse alcohol and drugs due to the pressures of working in this industry and the long hours alone on the road. They may use binge drinking or marijuana to relieve their stress, and they may use drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines to stay awake. The effects of these substances may cause a truck driver to speed excessively or engage in other risky behaviors.
Inexperienced Drivers and Drug Use
Some trucking companies require young drivers to handle their longer routes. These truckers also may undertake more work to support new families. As a result, they may be more likely to use stimulants, which can exacerbate the risks posed by their lack of experience.
While ordinary drivers are subject to an 0.08 blood alcohol content limit, the BAC limit shrinks to 0.04 for commercial drivers. Truckers are not allowed to consume alcohol during a four-hour period before operating a commercial vehicle, and they cannot keep alcohol in a cab. This shows that industry regulators take the problem seriously. A truck driver who was under the influence when they caused an accident may face criminal charges in addition to a civil lawsuit.
Liability for Truck Accidents Caused by Drunk or Drugged Driving
If a drunk or drugged trucker causes an accident, a victim likely can bring a personal injury lawsuit against them. They would need to show that the driver engaged in unreasonably unsafe, or “negligent,” conduct. A DUI should easily meet this standard. In many states, a victim might be able to use a shortcut known as negligence per se. The traditional form of this doctrine provides that a defendant will be deemed negligent if:
The defendant violated a law designed to protect people like the victim
The victim suffered the type of harm that the law was meant to prevent
Often, a victim can sue not only the individual driver but also the trucking company. A company may have failed to properly vet a driver during the hiring process and thus missed a record of DUIs or drug offenses. In other cases, a company may have failed to devise and enforce policies to prevent this problem. Even if a company did nothing wrong, though, it still may be liable for a DUI accident caused by a driver. This theory of indirect liability holds an employer accountable for careless actions by an employee while they were on the job.
Damages for Accidents Involving Alcohol or Drug Use
The standard category of damages in truck accident cases is known as compensatory damages. These are meant to put a victim in the position in which they would have been had the accident not happened, to the extent possible. Compensatory damages are divided further into economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include medical bills, lost income, the costs of future treatment, vocational rehabilitation, property damage, and other out-of-pocket costs resulting from an accident. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other subjective harm.
A less common type of damages known as punitive damages also may be available in truck accident cases involving drunk or drugged driving. Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant that has engaged in serious misconduct, as well as deterring people or entities that are similarly situated. Since the use of alcohol or drugs shows a reckless indifference to the safety of others, this may meet the standard for punitive damages. These may be significantly greater than compensatory damages.
Wrongful Death Damages
Drunk or drugged driving may cause a fatal accident. In this situation, family members of the victim may receive damages related to the support, services, consortium, and other tangible and intangible benefits provided by the victim. The estate of the victim also can pursue damages similar to those that the victim could have recovered had they survived.