Our Virginia personal injury law firm regularly shares reports regarding car accidents that were caused by distracted driving, drowsy driving, and drunk driving. In the majority of these auto accidents, victims suffered serious injuries, and tragically, we have also reported on countless accidents where victims were killed. There is a new, alarming trend in car accident causes that more and more law enforcement are seeing across the country, and the potential of how many victims will be killed or injured is frightening. That trend is “overdoses while driving.”
The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. There is not one state in this country that is not struggling with the effects of heroin and prescription drug addictions. The latest release of national statistics – from 2014 – revealed that just under 2 million people in this country suffered from prescription pain relief addiction. Another 600,000 suffered from heroin addiction. Many of those who are addicted to painkillers eventually become addicted to heroin when they can no longer get access to pills.
Sadly, Virginia has not been spared. Virginia’s attorney general stated that “No corner of the Commonwealth is untouched,” by the epidemic when it was announced that the number of deaths from drug overdoses was greater than the number of deaths from car accidents.
There are also a massive number of overdoses which occur on a daily basis where emergency responders are able to revive the victims with naloxone, a drug which has become standard gear for not only EMTs but also law enforcement. Many communities have an average of 4 overdoses a day, but occasionally a city will see a spike in that number, often caused by a lethal batch of heroin. Just last week, in Huntington, W.Va., 26 people overdosed in a four-hour period. All 26 survived.
As the epidemic grows, police report that many car accidents they are responding to are caused by a driver who has overdosed while behind the wheel. A driver who is under the influence of drugs is a danger to himself and everyone on the road around him. A study conducted by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NTHSA) of 3,000 drivers who were involved in car crashes in Virginia Beach found that one in four drivers tested positive for at least one drug that is known to have an effect on a person’s ability to drive.
A person who is overdosing while driving is deadly. This means the vehicle is moving without anyone in control, aimed at not only other vehicles but also pedestrians. It is a horrific visual, but one that is happening multiple times on a daily basis across Virginia and the rest of the country.
It is not uncommon in a car accident case to find that the party responsible was taking some kind of medications that they admit to, so the question is where they were careless or negligent in driving a car under the influence of the medications, if they were legal. Obviously, if they were under the effect of illegal medications, this would likely be considered careless or negligent operation of a car. In cases that end up in litigation, we often subpoena hospital or medical records of a driver who may be under the influence of medications or drugs.
It is a crime under Virginia law to operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In addition to criminal charges, an impaired driver who causes an accident may also be responsible for punitive damages for any victims who were injured in the crash or to the families of anyone killed in the crash. Punitive damages are punishment for the driver for their reckless behavior. Injured victims or anyone who has lost a loved one in a car accident caused by a drugged driver should contact a skilled Virginia personal injury attorney to find out what legal options they may have.