Prescription Drugs and Driving — Can You Hold Legal Drug Users Liable in Your New York Car Accident Case?

Yesterday the New York Times reported that, while drunken-driving deaths are dropping, car-accident deaths caused by drivers who have taken legally prescribed narcotics, such as painkillers, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medications, and other potent drugs, are increasing. Unlike with alcohol, no firm studies or guidelines exist determining what blood level of these drugs impairs driving. Yet the drugs, in many cases, clearly cause driving to deteriorate. They can impair motor skills, slow reaction time, and undermine judgment. For example, anti-anxiety drugs can make a driver less alert, and slower to react. Stimulants, on the other hand, can lead to risk-taking and diminished judgment. Drivers “on drugs” (albeit legal ones) often have many of the symptoms of drunk drivers — bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or erratic driving.

So here’s my blog topic of the day: What happens, in a New York car accident lawsuit, if the defendant driver who you claim is at fault for the car accident, was “on drugs” (albeit legally prescribed ones) at the time of the collision? Can the fact that he or she took prescription drugs before the crash be used in Court to make out your case?

Answer: Yes, of course! Most prescription drugs that can affect driving have clear indications on them that they should not be ingested before driving or using machinery. And besides, common sense dictates the same. The motorist who struck your car should have known better, and had a duty to either refrain from using the drugs or refrain from driving. So it is no excuse that the drugs taken by the driver, who, say, swerved into your lane, were “legal”.

In Court, your New York auto accident lawyer may need to hire an expert pharmacologist to explain to the jury the affect the drugs likely had on the driver. But probably not — in most cases it will be clear that the drugged motorist is responsible for the collision because he or she crossed into your lane, blew the stop sign, failed to yield — or whatever. Only in cases where the driver’s fault is more subtle — for example, delayed reaction time — will such expert testimony be needed.

One more thing — read your prescriptions before driving! If they are likely to affect your driving, they should tell you how long to wait after ingesting the drug before driving. Thanks for being safe!

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