Everyday, millions of drivers use America’s roadways in their vehicles. For the most part, we all assume that the other drivers around us will play by the rules and drive in a reasonable way. However, sometimes, other drivers on the road do not drive reasonably and the results can be devastating and heart-breaking. One of the most terrifying events a driver can encounter is another driver coming directly at them the wrong way on the road. In New York in the summer of 2009, a woman in New York driving the wrong way on a highway while allegedly under the influence of both drugs and alcohol struck another vehicle head-on and was responsible for the deaths of eight people including four children who were in the minivan driven by the woman.
Other relevant wrong way drivers causing injuries and deaths:
Outrage in the community ensued as the public demanded some sort of justice and closure in the new York case above. Some wished there to be criminal charges filed but because the suspect died at the scene of her accident, the criminal charges would have to be filed against her surviving family members, mainly her husband in this case. In some states, a person who allows a drunk driver to get behind the wheel of a vehicle may be charged as an accomplice to the homicide if that driver does indeed cause injury or death.
In the case of Diane Schuler, the wrong way driver in New York, charges are not being filed against her husband due to a lack of probable cause to charge him with any crime. Daniel, her husband, was at the campground with her before she headed home but unless he knew or should have known that she was intoxicated when she began driving, he cannot be held criminally liable.
Despite the fact that no criminal charges were filed or are likely to be filed, Daniel Schuler may still find himself the defendant in wrongful death and personal injury suits. New York’s wrongful death laws Like those in Virginia (VA) and the Carolinas, allow a family to recover, in a law suit, for pain and suffering, medical and funeral expenses, loss of income calculated as if the victim had lived. New York-like many states-also has survival statutes which allow a representative of the victim to sue for pain and suffering and funeral or medical expenses. New York also provides another way be which the victims’ families could recover and that is under a theory of negligent entrustment. The car which Diane Schuler was driving when she crashed that fateful day did not belong to her; it was in fact owned by her brother. If her brother knew or should have known that she had a drug or alcohol problem or that she had a medical condition then he may in fact face civil negligent entrustment responsibility for the accident if he entrusted her with his vehicle despite this knowledge.
It is terrifying to think that wrong way accidents occur as frequently as they do on American roads but it is necessary that such tort claims for the victims’ families be permitted to go forward so that those who have suffered a loss may have some chance at some restitution and recovery; this may be their only chance at justice if criminal charges cannot be filed.
About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm is based in Virginia (VA), near the NE North Carolina (NC) border. The firm handles car, truck, railroad, medical negligence cases and more. Our lawyers proudly edit the Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono public information service. Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton’s lawyers are licensed in VA, NC, SC, WV, DC and KY.