Court Finds Drunk Driver Was Not Liable for Subsequent Accident Occurring 90 Minutes Later

Earlier this month, an appellate court in South Dakota issued a written opinion in a motorcycle accident case that was brought by a man who was injured when he was unable to stop in time to avoid a line of traffic that had built up as a result of a previous accident. The case was brought against the drunk driver who had caused the original accident. However, due to numerous factors, the court held that the drunk driver’s negligent actions were not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The Facts of the Case

At around 3:00 p.m. on August 5, 2012, an intoxicated motorcyclist failed to negotiate a curve in the highway and ended up driving off the road into a ditch. There was no indication that the motorcycle or any debris was remaining in the road following the accident. The Highway Patrol responded, and the motorcyclist was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Highway Patrol began an accident reconstruction project at around 4:00 p.m., and at this time, traffic was flowing in both directions. A highway patrol officer was stationed to the east of the accident to warn approaching motorists.

The plaintiff approached the scene of the accident from the west at approximately 4:30 p.m. As he rounded the corner, he noticed a motor home that was stopped in the line of traffic that was leading up to the accident. The plaintiff was unable to stop in time and crashed as a result.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the estate of the deceased motorcyclist who caused the original accident. The estate sought the dismissal of the case, arguing that the highway patrol’s failure to warn drivers coming from the west of the accident was an intervening cause that severed the chain of causation. The lower court denied the motion, and the estate appealed.

On appeal, the estate was successful in getting the lower court’s ruling reversed. The appellate court explained that, in order for a party to be liable in a personal injury lawsuit, it must be established that their actions were the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The court elaborated, explaining that proximate cause need not be the only cause of the accident, but “when the natural and continuous sequence of causal connection between the negligent conduct and the injury is interrupted by a new and independent cause, which itself produces the injury, that intervening cause operates to relieve the original wrongdoer of liability.”

Applying the doctrine of intervening cause, the court found that the highway patrol’s actions did act to sever the chain of causation set in motion by the deceased driver. Thus, the court held that the estate was not liable to the plaintiff for his injuries.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Motorcycle Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland motorcycle accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorneys at the Maryland-based law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have decades of combined experience representing injured motorcyclists in a wide range of motorcycle accident cases. We are prepared for any defense, and we understand which facts must be proven in order to be successful at trial. Call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated personal injury attorney at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers today.

More Blog Posts:

Scooter Accidents on Maryland Roads, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published May 11, 2017.

Police Liability in High-Speed Chases, Maryland Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Blog, published April 27, 2017.

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