Drowsy driving is a serious problem in the United States. Far too many drivers get behind the wheel when they are simply not well-rested enough to operate their vehicle in a reasonably safe manner. According to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, drowsy driving may be a factor in as many as 10 percent of serious car accidents.
In recent years some drivers have claimed that they were asleep when they got into the car. In some cases, “sleep driving” or “Ambien driving” has become a legal defense asserted by the defendant. Here, our Seattle car accident lawyers explain the sleep defense and how it applies — or does not apply — to personal injury claims.
The “Sleep Defense” and “Ambien Defense” in Intoxicated Driving Cases
In 2013, Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, made national headlines after she was arrested for a DUI following a serious traffic accident in New York State. What made this case notable is that Ms. Kennedy blamed the crash not on any form of intoxication, but on the prescription sleeping pill ‘Ambien’. She claimed that she mistakenly took Ambien, thinking it was a different medication.
Ms. Kennedy was eventually acquitted on the drugged driving charge. The sleep defense was successful. This case is far from an outlier — in many DUI cases and drugged driving cases across the country, drivers have successfully raised a sleep defense/Ambien defense in order to beat criminal charges. This raises an important question: Can a driver avoid liability for an auto accident by using the sleep defense?
Personal Injury Cases: Sleep Driving is Negligent Driving
For many different reasons, personal injury claims are different than criminal cases. Perhaps most importantly, drivers can be held legally liable for an auto accident if their negligence caused the wreck. In car accident cases, negligence varies widely. Some types of negligence are also criminal offenses, the most common example being drunk driving. A drunk driver who caused a serious crash may face both criminal charges and a personal injury lawsuit.
Many forms of negligent driving are non-criminal traffic violations, such as speeding or running a red light. In other cases, negligence may result in no traffic violation. A driver who rear-ends another vehicle because they momentarily took their eyes off the road can be held responsible for the crash, even if they are not cited for any violation by police.
A motorist cannot escape civil liability by claiming that they made an unintentional mistake. Referring back to the famous case of Kerry Kennedy, the jury acquitted her of drugged driving after her legal team raised a convincing criminal defense. As a result, she was not held criminally liable. That type of defense would likely not work in a personal injury case. In Washington car accident claims, plaintiffs do not need to prove that defendants intentionally caused an accident. Quite the contrary; they merely must prove that the defendant’s negligent action resulted in the accident. Mixing up pills, while not necessarily criminal, could still be negligence.
Speak to Seattle’s Top-Rated Car Accident Attorney
At The Walthew Law Firm, we are strong advocates for injured victims. If you or someone you know was severely hurt in a motor vehicle accident in Western Washington, our legal team is here to help. To set up a free, strictly private review of your case, please contact us today. From our law offices in Seattle and Everett, we represent clients throughout the region.