While the debate about driving high will continue for some time, accidents will continue to occur on the roadway. Some people believe that it is just as dangerous as driving while under the influence of alcohol. Many others believe that it is not as dangerous as alcohol. Either way, in nearly all states, operating a motor vehicle while impaired is illegal. Like alcohol breath tests, many states have put mechanisms in place to test drivers for potential marijuana use when they are involved in an accident on the roadways. A car accident attorney can guide you in this situation.
Operating a Motor Vehicle Under the Influence of Marijuana
It is important to understand what impact marijuana has on drivers. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that drivers who have smoked or ingested marijuana have slower reaction times.
These studies also show that the higher the dose of marijuana, the more impairment a driver is likely to display. While most of the impact of marijuana use is normally felt within 30 minutes of use, legally or otherwise, the use of this drug could increase the risk of being involved in a traffic accident by as much as 35 percent.
Marijuana Use In the United States
According to a recent Gallup poll, 16 percent of adults currently use marijuana. With more states legalizing the use of marijuana, both for medicinal and recreational purposes, it is important to understand the risks associated with driving while high.
Many studies show that driving while under the influence of marijuana can increase the risk of being involved in a car accident. When someone has been injured in a car accident caused by a driver high on marijuana, they need to contact an experienced accident injury attorney for help getting compensated for their injuries.
Potential Injuries Victims Suffer in Car Accidents
Recently available statistics for accidents on California roadways show more than 187,000 accidents in a single year. During that year, 269,301 people suffered an injury.
Some of the types of car injuries which can occur because of a crash on California roadways include:
- Whiplash or neck injuries caused by sudden jerks to the head and neck, which can lead to strain or sprain.
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) caused by a blow to the head, which can result in a concussion or more serious injury
- Spinal cord injuries, caused by damage to the spinal cord, which can result in loss of sensation, mobility, or even paralysis
- Fractures can occur because of the impact of a crash or from the deployment of airbags
- Soft tissue injuries, including cuts, bruises, or strains to muscles and tendons
- Psychological injuries, including anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can result from the emotional impact of a car accident.
All car accident victims may recover compensation for their injuries in an accident that was not their fault. Establishing liability for the accident can help ensure a victim is treated fairly by the insurance company.
Establishing Liability in Driving High Accidents
Before filing an insurance claim, an accident victim must be able to show that there was someone responsible for their injuries. In the case of a driver who was operating their vehicle while high, this can be challenging.
Under the currently established laws in California, the use of marijuana is legal for both recreational and medicinal purposes. However, the law clearly states that it is not legal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. Drivers found to be operating while high can face criminal charges, but that does not mean that accident victims cannot seek compensation for their injuries.
To prove a driver was driving high when they caused a car accident, evidence can help:
- Police observations. The officers on the scene may have noted slow speech, slow reaction times, bloodshot eyes, or the smell of marijuana when interviewing a driver. These notes may be included in the officer’s accident report.
- Roadside sobriety tests. The police often use a modified roadside sobriety test, much like those administered to drivers who are under the influence of alcohol. These tests can help prove a driver was high when an accident occurred.
- Chemical and toxicology reports. Blood and urine tests are used to determine the amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), one of the components found in marijuana, in a person’s system.
Keep in mind a driver may test positive for THC several days after using marijuana, so it may be difficult to prove whether a driver was high at the time of an accident. A personal injury attorney can explain how this could impact a victim’s claim.
Criminal Charges, Driving High, and Accident Victims
One of the concerns an accident victim has after an accident involving a driver who was high at the time of an accident is whether or not the criminal charges a driver may face will affect their case.
The simple answer is no. A car accident claim is a civil case. Sometimes, a prosecutor may avoid filing a criminal charge against a driver operating high. This is because the evidence a prosecutor needs to get a criminal conviction is higher than the evidence required to prove someone behaved negligently.
An accident victim should seek guidance from a personal injury attorney with experience handling car accident cases. Drivers do not have to be found guilty of driving while high to be held financially liable for the injuries they have caused in a car accident.
Possible Compensation After a High Driving Accident
When someone is injured in a car accident, they often wonder what compensation they may be able to demand. Remember, there is no set amount that a victim may be entitled to after a car accident. The final settlement amount will depend on several factors, including the severity of the victim’s injuries.
Some of the types of compensation a victim may request include:
- Medical care for victims. Whether a victim requires hospitalization, specialized tests, medical equipment, prescription medications, or rehabilitation therapy, they should not be forced to pay for those expenses out of pocket after an accident in which they had no fault. Providing a car accident injury attorney with a full record of expenses can provide the basis for asking for reimbursement for a victim’s out-of-pocket medical expenses.
- Lost wages or benefits. When a victim of a driver who was operating while high suffers an injury, they could be facing weeks or months of recovery time. During that time, they are likely facing financial challenges because they are not collecting their salary. Their future earnings may also be impacted.. Speak with an attorney about what losses may be claimed as part of lost wages.
- Property damage. In addition to the physical injuries a victim faces, they are also forced to deal with the damage to their vehicle because of a car accident. No car accident victim should be forced to pay for damage to their car because of another driver’s negligence. The cost to repair or replace the vehicle can be included in an insurance claim against the at-fault driver.
In California, drivers must only maintain $15,000 in personal injury liability coverage. A driver operating while high on marijuana can cause an accident, resulting in a victim facing financial ruin if they suffer a life-altering injury. Contacting an accident injury attorney may help victims get compensation for their out-of-pocket losses.
Insurance Company Adjusters and Accident Victims
Insurance adjusters are not protecting accident victims. They are protecting the insurance company. An adjuster has no responsibility to explain a victim’s rights under the law, nor do they have to advise a victim about what legal options victims may have open to them.
An insurance adjuster may initially offer a victim a fast settlement. These settlements seldom will cover the complete losses of a victim. The reason for this is the adjuster has been advised by the insurance company to get the claim resolved as soon as possible.
Insurers know what injuries an accident victim has suffered. They know how long the recovery period is, and they can anticipate the financial pain of the family. The expectation is that an accident victim will accept the initial offer to help ease a family’s financial burden. Accepting an initial offer is never a good idea.
Before accepting any settlement from an insurance company, a victim should make sure they are being compensated for all their financial losses. This can only be accomplished if an experienced attorney reviews the offer and advises their client about the potential upside and downside of an offer to settle. Remember that even when an adjuster tells someone they are making the best offer they will get, this may not be accurate.
Since most accident victims do not have experience negotiating with insurance companies, they need car accident lawyers who understand:
- Low offers to settle. Insurers rarely offer the maximum settlement on the first offer. Victims will need to have someone advocating on their behalf to ensure they are fairly compensated for their injuries and losses.
- Liability limits. An insurer will ask an accident victim to sign a waiver once they have accepted a settlement. This means if the victim is facing additional losses because of their injury, they will be unable to collect additional compensation.
- Negotiations are common. A car accident lawyer can negotiate on behalf of their clients. The negotiation process involves proving the victim’s losses, including wage losses, medical expenses, and repair costs.
Insurance companies do not just pay a claim immediately. In many cases, they may deny a claim hoping the victim will not appeal their findings. Remember, there is a statute of limitations on when a victim can file a lawsuit in personal injury cases. The insurance company is aware of this and may try to run out the clock so the victim cannot claim the compensation they may be entitled to following a car accident.
Working With a Car Accident Attorney After a High Driving Accident
Victims of an accident involving a driver operating their vehicle while high has the right to seek legal help. Many drivers avoid this because they believe they can handle the negotiations independently. However, this could be a mistake since the insurance company has lawyers working on their behalf.
Victims of car accidents should know:
- Car accident lawyers offer free consultations. In nearly all cases, an accident victim can ask for a case evaluation to determine whether they have the legal option of filing a personal injury lawsuit.
- There is no obligation to hire an attorney after a consultation. Just because an accident victim asks for a free consultation does not mean they have to hire a lawyer. The victim always has the final decision as to whether the attorney is the right fit for their case.
- Victims remain in charge of accepting or rejecting settlements. A law firm cannot accept or reject a settlement offer without their client’s approval.
Accident injury attorneys almost always accept victims’ cases on a contingency fee basis. For the victim, this means they get someone to help them deal with all the issues they are facing after an accident without paying legal fees upfront.
If an attorney does not obtain a settlement, the victim will not pay legal fees. The lawyer may collect other fees, including document preparation, expert witness fees, and filing fees, but this is something a victim should negotiate with their legal team.
Contact an Accident Injury Attorney Immediately
While the debate about whether driving high causes accidents continues to be a source of various opinions and studies, accident victims need to get help getting reimbursed for their losses after an accident. Anyone in a car accident should seek legal counsel, especially if a driver operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs caused the crash.
Since there is no obligation to hire, and consultations are free, contacting an accident injury attorney with experience handling complex cases makes sense for victims. The sooner a victim contacts a car accident lawyer, the less likely they are to make mistakes that could put their final settlement at risk.