July 4th, though best known as an occasion for grilling out, visiting the beach or lake, and watching the fireworks, is unfortunately also notorious for its high incidence of accidents and injuries. Many incidents, especially vehicle and boat accidents, are related to alcohol use. The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission recently announced that more than 87 state and local law enforcement agencies work overtime throughout the holiday weekend. Many of the agencies will be participating in the state’s “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign that aims to keep impaired drivers off the road. The Commission reports that the number of highway deaths has dropped significantly over the past few years: 16 people were killed on Louisiana highways over the Fourth of July holiday in 2007, and only two fatalities occurred last year.
Despite this positive trend and the stepped-up efforts by law enforcement, patriotic celebrants throughout Louisiana may still find themselves in dangerous situations over these holiday weekends. When calamity should strike, the parties involved may turn to the courts to resolve their dispute; the resolution will likely involve the court’s application of negligence. The theory contains four basic elements that a plaintiff must show in order to recover from a defendant. First, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed him or her a duty. This is generally a straightforward matter, as all members of society have a responsibility to exercise reasonable care toward others; this duty takes such common sense forms as requiring users of fireworks to point bottle rockets away from bystanders or drivers to operate their vehicles in a safe manner. Driving a car or piloting a boat or jet ski while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a clear violation of this duty. A person who fails to observe the obligation of safety and engages in conduct that poses an unreasonable risk of harm to others is said to breach this duty. This second element of negligence must be tied to the plaintiff’s injury by way of the third element, causation. That is, the defendant’s breach of duty must have resulted in the plaintiff’s injury. A defendant is responsible only for the consequences that are directly linked to his or her misconduct.
The final element, harm, requires the plaintiff to prove that he or she suffered a loss. The court can award two kinds of damages to compensate the plaintiff for his losses: special and general. Special damages are those which are easily quantifiable, such as medical expenses, lost wages, or property repair costs. General damages cover intangible losses, such as pain and suffering. Trial courts are afforded great latitude in assessing general damage awards, which can potentially expose defendants to staggering liability.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that the Fourth of July is the single day of the year with the highest rate of car crash deaths nationwide, with the second-highest rate occurring on July 3. This serves as a reminder how every holiday comes with it poor decisions and that people should, more than anything, remember to keep their family’s safety a priority, on and off the highway. Additionally, any injury should receive both medical and legal attention lest a person’s health, and rights, be violated due to rash decisions.
All of us here at the Berniard Law Firm hope that all of our readers enjoyed a happy and safe Independence Day, as well as an enjoyable shortened work week!