Drunk Driving Liability

bright-ideaNo matter how many years a lawyer has practiced, there is no end to the need for exposure to bright new ideas from the best lawyers around the United States.

Over the past year, I had the opportunity to serve as chair of the Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway and Premises Liability Section of the American Association for Justice (AAJ). The largest section of AAJ, it encompasses the work of most “meat and potatoes” personal injury and wrongful death lawyers in America.

The section includes over 2,500 trial lawyers in all 50 states and specialized litigation groups on trucking litigation, bus

BUI - Georgia cracks down on boating under the influence
Georgia cracks down on boating under the influence

Every summer thousands of metro Atlanta residents take to the surrounding lakes in boats. And every summer we see fresh cases of boating accidents, often collisions between watercraft in which someone is drinking alcohol, often at night, killing or injuring people involved. Boating under the influence is a major hazard on Georgia lakes.

Last July on Lake Lanier, a fishing boat collided with a pontoon boat at night, immediately causing the deaths of two young brothers.The operator of the fishing boat failed a field sobriety test and refused

In the past 10 days this plaintiffs’ trial lawyer, in the capacity of State Bar of Georgia president, has co-presided over a joint meeting of the State Bar Executive Committee and the Georgia Supreme Court, had a joint press conference with the Attorney General of Georgia and spoke at a lunch meeting that included general counsels of some of Georgia’s leading corporations. In 75 days, I will complete my term as State Bar president and get back to practicing law full-time.

I do not expect any favoritism from anyone as cases must be decided on their merits.  But if a

As president of the State Bar of Georgia, I often have occasion to speak at events that extend beyond my own personal injury, wrongful death and commercial trucking law practice. The following is excerpted from my presentation — “Trial Preparation: 30 tips in 30 Minutes” – at the Georgia Law of Torts seminar at Mercer University Law School in Macon on September 23, 2011.

6. Investigate the case yourself.

Use Open Records Act requests to obtain all police photos and dashcam video,  and 911 logs and recordings. As soon as practicable, visit the scene of the incident in person and

The Georgia Supreme Court issued a landmark decision today, in FLORES et al. v. EXPREZIT! STORES, holding that a convenience store that sold a 12 pack of beer to a visibly intoxicated customer could be accountable for the injuries and deaths that resulted.

The Georgia dram shop statute, OCGA § 51-1-40, provides:

(a) The General Assembly finds and declares that the consumption of alcoholic beverages, rather than the sale or furnishing or serving of such beverages, is the proximate cause of any injury, including death and property damage, inflicted by an intoxicated person upon himself or upon another person,

Should all convicted drunk drivers be required to use an ignition interlock device at their expense as a condition of probation?

Ignition interlocks, or in-car breathalyzers, are devices that can be installed in vehicles to prevent people who have consumed alcohol from driving. They are most often installed after a driver has been convicted of DUI/DWI, in order to prevent them from driving drunk again and causing personal injury or wrongful death to innocent people in auto accidents on the roads.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, ignition interlocks can reduce the rate of re-arrest among convicted drunk drivers by  67%.

However, only 13 states require interlocks for all convicted DUI/DWI offenders, even on a first conviction.

Georgia’s state government is looking for less expensive ways than incarceration to deal with criminal offenders. There is also an urgent need to cut down on the cost of medical care for uninsured injury victims, the cost of whose care may fall back on local and state governments.

The idea of requiring all convicted drunk drivers to pay for their own ignition interlock devices as a condition of probation might be worth considering.

What do you think?

On September 4th in Atlanta, Angel Rivers, 21, was ejected and killed in a fiery crash when the Chrysler in which she was an occupant was rear-ended by a drunk driver.  Witnesses saw Donis Hodges recklessly driving a 2006 BMW M6 just before he crashed into the Chrysler near Hamilton E. Holmes Drive.

Charges  against Hodges include DUI, first-degree homicide by vehicle, following too closely and reckless driving. On Monday, a judge set bond for Hodges at $310,000.  After the hearing, Rivers’ mother, Shatavia Little, told CBS Atlanta she’s angry that the judge allowed bond for Hodges. “This is not like he hit a squirrel. It’s not like he hit a stray dog. He killed a human being. That’s my baby,” she said.

Georgia wrongful death law provides for recovery of the "full value of the life" of the person killed.

Unfortunately, after any such tragic accident, victims’ families are often immediately besieged by "runners" attempting to unethically solicit for lawyers who are willing to risk disbarment.  Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct 7.3 provides, in part: "A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment as a private practitioner for the lawyer, a partner or associate through direct personal contact or through live telephone contact, with a non-lawyer who has not sought advice regarding employment of a lawyer. . . . The maximum penalty for a violation of this Rule is disbarment."


This news story brings out the old prosecutor in me.

Sunday evening in Gwinnett County, a young mom walked out to the street to tell a driver who had repeatedly sped through her neighborhood to slow down.

But the allegedly drunk driver ran off the road and hit her, crushing her between the front of his truck and another truck that was parked off the street.  She was reportedly killed instantly.

A neighbor said the alleged drunk stopped, walked up, and asked if he had hit a garbage can. Seeing that he had killed a woman, according to media reports, he cursed, parked his truck at the end of the street, and fled on foot.

Constantine Toncz, 39, was soon apprehended and charged with felony vehicular homicide, DUI, and felony leaving the scene of an accident.

That is the sort of case that Assistant District Attorneys would have fought for the chance to take to trial when I was a young prosecutor.

As for the civil side of things, my bet would be that the drunk driver would minimum liability insurance, if any, leaving the decedent’s family to look to uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage.  The chance of someone who served the driver alcohol being liable, particularly on a Sunday evening, is possible but remote.

It is our policy not to include the names of accident victims in blog posts out of respect for privacy of victims and their families.

As an Atlanta personal injury trial lawyer, I have been pleased to sponsor the Mothers Against Drunk Driving of Georgia web site.  (See the extremely small print with no hyperlink at the very bottom of the home page.)

Now MADD is proposing legislation to require DUI offenders to have ignition interlock devices — an electronic gadget that keeps a car from starting unless the driver’s breath is alcohol-free — installed on their vehicles after their first DUI conviction.  Judges can now require this after the second DUI conviction.

Sounds like a good idea.