DeLauter v. Seneca Ins. Co. – Drunk Driver Not the Only Liable One in Crash

Drunk driving is a serious problem in North Carolina, causing an estimated 61,000 crashes each year, resulting in 22,000 injuries and nearly 530 deaths. These crashes cost taxpayers in this state an estimated $4.7 billion every year, with the average fatality costing society $4.9 million. Injured survivors incur average costs of $150,000 each.
Generally, we hold the drunk driver responsible for his or her actions. This is where criminal courts will place blame. Civil courts are reticent, too to extend responsibility to third parties. However, there are numerous circumstances under which other parties may be held liable for injuries caused by drunk drivers.

Some examples include: Liquor stores that sell to minors, employers of intoxicated drivers, parents of impaired minors, bars that sell to clearly intoxicated patrons they know will be driving and even, in some cases, the owner of the car (if different from driver) for negligent entrustment of that vehicle.

Our Greensboro DUI injury lawyers recognize all these options must be thoroughly explored. Every circumstance is unique, and there may be avenues of potential compensation not previously considered.

One such case was recently presented to the Wyoming Supreme Court. In DeLauter v. Seneca Ins. Co., Inc., the court was asked to decide whether a bail bondsman could be held liable for injuries caused by a drunk driver whom he had just released.

Answer: Possibly.

The court overturned an earlier summary judgment favoring defendants, meaning plaintiff will at least have the opportunity to present his case to a jury.

In this scenario, a man was drinking at a local tavern, got in his vehicle and was subsequently pulled over and arrested for DUI. At the sheriff’s office, a blood test revealed his blood-alcohol concentration was 0.11 percent – above the 0.08 percent threshold.

The man contacted a bail bonds company down the street, and an agent arrived to bail him out. In so doing, the bondsman signed a release, agreeing to accept custody of the impaired individual and hold the sheriff’s office harmless for any resulting liability. The sheriff’s office will not release impaired individuals unless in the custody of a sober adult.

From the jail, bondsman drove the man to the bond office, which was on the same street as the tavern where defendant was previously drinking. The man told the agent he’d walk to the bar and meet up with friends to give him a ride home. Instead, the man went to the bar, consumed more alcohol and then agreed to drive a friend home in her vehicle. While pulling out of the parking lot, he struck a pedestrian, dragging him nearly a mile before stopping, causing the man severe injuries.

Plaintiff filed suit against driver, whose insurance company paid the policy limit. Still, he sought compensation from the bond agent’s employer. Defendant argued claim was time-barred because it was not filed within the two-year statute of limitations required for actions arising from rendering licensed or professional services (usually reserved for medical malpractice cases). Trial court agreed and dismissed the action.

However, Wyoming Supreme Court reversed, finding the facts in the complaint did not establish the agent was “rendering licensed or professional services” when he released the impaired man from custody. Thus, the claim was filed within the applicable window for actions arising from general negligence and should be allowed to proceed.

Contact the North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
DeLauter v. Seneca Ins. Co., Inc., Nov. 10, 2014, Wyoming Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
NC Appeals Court: Child Awarded UM Coverage Under Grandfather’s Policy, Nov. 12, 2014, Greensboro Crash Lawyer Blog

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