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Norfolk, Portsmouth & Hampton, Virginia

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Mark Favaloro
Mark Favaloro
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Recent Negligence Lawsuit Highlights Importance Of Ignition Interlock Devices

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A family from Seattle, Washington has filed a $45 million negligence lawsuit against the city. The lawsuit claims that the city is responsible for a recent deadly drunk driving accident that resulted in the death of two elderly pedestrians and left a young mother and her 10-day-old son in critical condition. Everyone in the group was related, the 10-day-old boy was the grandson of the deceased pedestrians.

The surviving members of the Schulte family now argue that the city is to blame for the terrible accident that took place earlier this year because officials failed to do enough to keep the drunk driver off the road. The driver who was responsible for hitting and killing the Schultes had been arrested and placed on probation only a few months prior to the wreck. The family says that the city failed to ensure that the driver had installed the court-ordered ignition interlock device in his truck.

The lawsuit says that the city was on notice that the driver was a risk to others, given that his most recent arrest was the man’s fifth such DUI. Given the extreme danger he posed to society, the lawsuit says the city had an extra responsibility to follow-up with the man and make sure he was abiding by the terms of his probation. State law requires a home visit take place within 10 days of release and at least two in-person contacts each month. The lawsuit claims that none of the visits were conducted and that the drunk driver was allowed to continue driving his normal vehicle without ever installing the required ignition interlock device.

So far the city has not commented on the case, but experts say the lawsuit will likely serve as a good reason for legislatures across the country to consider taking action to ensure their DUI laws are properly implemented. The Schulte family says that they hope the lawsuit is enough to encourage the Washington legislature to take action to ensure DUI laws are actually followed. As a result of the recent case, new legislation in the state has been proposed that would require repeat DUI offenders to have ignition interlock devices installed in their cars within five days of an arrest. Judges would also be required to set a follow-up date where the driver would have to produce documents to prove that the ignition interlock device had been installed.

Here in Virginia, the law contains a little more wiggle room for offenders. Courts in the state can order the interlock device to be installed immediately after a person has been convicted or they can be granted a continuance for a number of days to allow them to get the device installed. In Virginia, offenders are required to submit proof of the ignition interlock device installation to their ASAP (Alcohol Safety Action Program) supervisors, but not to a judge.

The case highlights the harm that can happen when repeat drunk drivers are allowed to get back behind the wheel. Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control bolstered the idea that ignition interlock devices are essential tools that can be effectively used to stop drunk drivers from reoffending. The CDC says that studies show the ignition interlock devices reduce drunken-driving recidivism by an average of 67 percent. Similarly large declines in repeat offenses have even been seen when the devices are mandated for first-time offenders.

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