Gushlaw v Miller: Do We Have a Duty to Stop Alabama Drivers from Drinking and Driving?

Although drinking and driving is both dangerous and illegal, it remains the most common cause of Montgomery car accidents to date. However, have you ever wondered whether you can be held liable for knowingly allowing another to drink and drive?
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If you have been involved in an accident with a drunk driver, it is important to get the advice of an experienced Montgomery injury attorney.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court delves into this complicated legal issue of duty to third parties. Gushlaw v. Miller, No. 2009-376-Appeal (R.I. S.Ct. May 10, 2012). This case arose where two adult men, Joseph Clukey (Clukey) and Matthew Milner (Milner) (collectively, defendants), decided to go to a hotel party. Defendants were nineteen and twenty, respectively. They met at a local convenience store, and illegally purchased an eighteen pack of beer. They decided that Clukey would drive the forty five minutes to the location where the party was being held. The hostess of the party was only seventeen, and she had about eight to ten people gathering at this hotel party.

Upon arriving at the party, defendants began to drink very heavily. Each of the defendant’s consumed seven or eight beers. The party-goers were at the hotel pool, having a bar-be-que and drinking outside. The defendants began to get loud and obnoxious, causing the hostess to ask them to leave the party. Although Milner only lived three blocks from the party, the two men agreed to go back to the convenience store so that Milner could pick up his vehicle.

Cluckey drove intoxicated to the convenience store and dropped Milner off. Clukey knew that Milner was also intoxicated and that Milner was going to drive in that condition.
Several hours after the two men separated, Milner was driving at very high speeds. He crossed the middle line and collided with a vehicle that was being driven by Eldrick Johnson (Johnson). This head-on collision caused Milner to die immediately. Johnson survived the actual crash; however, he died upon arrival at the hospital from injuries related to the collision. Johnson was survived by his wife (plaintiff) and four minor children.

Plaintiff sued Milner, Milner’s father, Allstate Insurance Co. and Clukey. She argued that Clukey should be held liable under the theory of negligence because he knew or should have known that someone could be injured by Milner driving drunk. This argument centered on the idea that Clukey had owed a duty of care to all of the public to keep Milner, who was knowingly drunk, from driving.

The question for the court became whether Clukey was liable for the death of Johnson because he knowingly let Milner drive while intoxicated.

In order to prove a claim for negligence, the plaintiff has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the four elements of negligence. These are: defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff; defendant breached this duty; the defendant’s breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and the plaintiff suffered damages.
Clukey argued that he did not owe this duty of care. He stated further that it would be unreasonable to add this duty of care to third persons.

The state supreme court found that a person cannot be held liable for the injuries of another where they knowing let another person drive drunk. Hence, the court entered summary judgment for Clukey because this duty requirement would be excessive.

Every state has analyzed this question a little differently, which is why it is so critical to have an attorney guide you in your personal injury lawsuit.

If you have been injured contact Alabama Injury Attorneys at Allred & Allred, P.C. to schedule a free appointment. Call 1-866-942-9315.