In South Carolina, all drivers are forbidden from operating a motor vehicle under the influence. That of course includes alcohol and 0.08 BAC is the point at which a person is deemed legally impaired by alcohol. But the statute also includes drugs – even those that are over-the-counter or prescribed by a doctor. If it impairs a person’s ability to drive safely, that person can be charged with a criminal offense.
Now, in an interesting legal case out of Minnesota, the families of two men killed by a driver under the influence of methadone have successfully sued the clinic and doctor that prescribed the drug to the allegedly impaired driver. The two sides agreed to an $8.5 million settlement, according to Northland News Center Now’s KBJR-TV.
Methadone is a type of synthetic drug that acts similar to morphine, but it lasts longer. It’s often used as a substitute to help treat heroin and morphine addiction. It can also be used to treat severe pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report a 63 percent spike in heroin use among all income levels, genders and ages between 2002 and 2013. This has been driven largely by the prescription opioid epidemic and the fact that heroin is a cheaper, more available alternative. Lawsuits like this are going to continue to crop up in the future, in South Carolina and elsewhere.
According to news accounts, the defendant doctor, employed by defendant clinic, never examined the at-fault driver’s medical records before prescribing her a take-home dose of the drug. That woman immediately injected some of the drug into her bloodstream. Not long after, she pulled into a gas station parking lot, injected her take-home dose intravenously and then started on a 100-mile drive back to her home. On the way back, she crossed the center line on a two-lane highway and collided with the workers’ truck. The truck spun out and was then struck by a larger truck that was hauling construction equipment.
The driver, 26 at the time of the crash, pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular homicide and was sentenced to six years in prison.
In the civil case, lawyers for the accident victims’ families sought punitive damages, pointing the fact that the driver didn’t meet the basic federal criteria for take-home methadone use. Further, she had a known history of lying to clinic staff and using illegal drugs in addition to her methadone prescription. Plaintiff attorneys say this information was all readily available to defendants, who were only driven by profits.
The clinic countered that its goal was always harm reduction. They aren’t under illusions that clientele won’t go out and use street drugs, but the hope is that with intervention, they will eventually get better.
In an agreement reached before the scheduled trial, both the clinic and the doctor have agreed to a judgment rendering them both negligent. Further, the clinic has agreed to pay $5.7 million and the doctor $2.5 million. Those amounts will be collected via the respective insurance companies.
Seventy-five percent of the damages awarded will go to the estate of decedent who left behind a wife and children. The other 25 percent will go the estate of the other deceased worker.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Families get over $8M in precedent-setting case against methadone clinic, Jan. 26, 2016, By Ramona Marazos, Northlands News Center
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