Deadly Crash and DWI Arrest Remind Drivers of Duty of Care

Reports of drivers arrested for DWI, or “driving while intoxicated,” should serve as a reminder of the substantial duty imposed by the law on drivers to operate their vehicles in a safe manner. Motor vehicle operators owe a duty of care to all other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians to take reasonable care to avoid harm or injury. Some common breaches of this duty include driving too fast for conditions, failing to keep a proper lookout for other traffic, failing to observe traffic signals or markings, and driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Two recent reports from Houma Today involve drivers who operated their vehicles while “under the influence” in Terrebonne Parish. The first involved Jeffrey Trahan of Gibson, Louisiana, who on March 22 received a five-year prison sentence for his role in a deadly car crash one year prior. According to police, on March 22, 2009, Trahan drove his 1996 Honda Accord on North Bayou Black Drive in Houma where he ran off the road into a ditch. Trahan’s car flipped over, ejecting both Trahan and Donald McInnis, his passenger. McInnis, 17, who was also from Gibson, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. According to prosecutor Juan Pickett, Trahan tested positive for marijuana and Xanax, a prescription anti-anxiety medication that can adversely affect driving. Trahan pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and will be required to serve at least three years in jail without parole.

In the second report, James McDowell III of Baton Rouge was arrested in Thibodaux on March 24 for a fifth-offense DWI. At approximately 1:30 AM, a Louisiana state trooper observed McDowell swerving across lanes on La. Hwy. 308 near Bubba’s II Seafood Restaurant. The trooper charged McDowell with improper lane use, driving with a suspended license, and having an open container of alcohol in his car. McDowell had a blood-alcohol content of .052. While the state legal limit is .08, the trooper arrested McDowell because he had reason to believe that McDowell might have been under the influence of another substance. McDowell was taken to the Lafourche Parish jail.

In addition to the criminal penalties for DWI offenses (fines, license suspension, jail time), inebriated motorists can also face civil actions for the property damage and physical injury or death that result from their unsafe driving. For instance, the McInnis family may wish to pursue a cause of action against Jeffrey Trahan for the death of Donald. Other DWI accident victims can make claims for monetary compensation for medical care, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional trauma. A criminal conviction for DWI is as close to the law gets to a “slam dunk” for a plaintiff in a negligence suit against a drunk driver.

If you have been injured by a drunk driver, call the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help.

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