Drugged Driving Accidents

Impaired driving is estimated to be a causal factor in approximately a quarter of all motor vehicle fatalities in Florida. But impaired driving encompasses more than merely alcohol intoxication. It can also include driving under the influence of legal (i.e., prescription and over-the-counter medications), as well as illicit substances, like cocaine and heroin. Marijuana is also increasingly cited in Florida car accidents, given its expanded availability via a patchwork of relaxed laws throughout the country.

At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale car accident attorneys know that proving negligence and liability in drugged driving crash cases can be a bit more challenging than in those involving alcohol. This has more to do with the physiology of the way these chemicals are broken down by the body, which can make it difficult to prove a driver was drug-impaired, as opposed to just having used the drug at some point.

An experienced injury lawyer can help you after a drugged driving accident in securing personal injury protection (PIP) insurance, and pursuing first-party liability against the driver and third-party liability against other potential defendants.

Drugged Driving on the Rise

Alcohol intoxication by drivers has long been a threat on South Florida roads. That hasn’t changed much, even as the incident rate of impaired crashes has dipped since the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) began keeping track in the 1970s. The federal agency reports an average in the last decade, drunk driving has accounted for nearly one-third of all traffic deaths. There is a drunk driving death every 51 minutes in the U.S., costing the country $44 billion a year in losses.

Drugged driving hasn’t gotten nearly the same level of attention because it has historically been nowhere near as prevalent. That is changing for several reasons:

  • Marijuana is now increasingly available as more than half the states have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes and a handful allow it for recreation. F.S. 381.986, Florida’s compassionate use of low-THC and medical cannabis act was approved in the 2016 election, taking effect the following year. The statute allows low-THC quantity marijuana to be dispensed to qualified patients. In addition to this, a number of counties and municipalities throughout the state have decriminalized personal possession in small amounts. Miami-Dade adopted a penalty of a $100 fine for marijuana possession, and Broward gives sheriff’s deputies the option to issue a civil citation for possession of less than 20 grams. Fort Lauderdale opted out of that ordinance.
  • Prescription drug use on the rise. This is especially true of opioids, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and others, as well as benzodiazepines such as Xanax (alprazolam). Florida for a long time was dubbed the “Oxy Express” or the “Flamingo Express” because easy access to drugs at so-called “pill mill” clinics drew people from all of the country. Prosecutors started cracking down on these so-called “pill mill” pain clinics, and state lawmakers enacted a prescription drug monitoring system (E-FORCSE) to cut down on “doctor shopping.” This has cut down somewhat on the problem, but it has by no means been eliminated.
  • Heroin use. Heroin has been around for years, but its use spiked five-fold nationally in recent years, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Psychiatry. Heroin deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. The reduced availability of prescription opioids (still three times higher than it was two decades ago), combined with lower heroin prices and increased availability of it contributed to higher use.

On the roads, there is a tangible presence of drugged driving accidents. One report from the Governors’ Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) revealed positive drug tests were more common than the presence of alcohol among drivers who died in 2015. Of those motorists who died, 43 percent had drugs in their system, compared to 37 percent who died while testing positive for alcohol.

We must be careful with these figures though because the presence of a drug in one’s system is not necessarily proof of intoxication (though it is evidence). One’s alcohol concentration levels – measured through blood, breath or urine – are an accurate measure of one’s impairment because alcohol cycles through the body rapidly. A BAC of 0.08 or higher is a strong indication of impairment.

Liability for Drugged Driving Accidents in Florida

With drugs, it’s different because many substances remain in the body for an extended timeframe, even after the effects of active ingredients have waned. This means marijuana could be detected in one’s system days or even weeks after use, despite the fact he or she is not impaired. This has resulted in legal questions within the criminal courts, but also in civil courts.

A driver who is impaired may be deemed negligent per se, meaning negligent simply because he or she broke the law. Plus, a driver who inflicts injuries due to intoxicated driving may be liable to pay punitive damages on top of compensatory damages for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

We will work to gather as much as evidence as necessary to prove impairment. Cases can be won without that proof so long as your attorney can show the other driver was negligent – that is, failed to use reasonable care. A finding of negligence sets the stage for third-party actions, such as vicarious liability against the at-fault driver’s employer or the vehicle owner.

There is much at stake in these cases, which is why you should only trust your claim to an experienced car accident attorney serving Fort Lauderdale.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Fort Lauderdale car accident, contact the personal injury attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011 or (954) 761-3641.

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