Momentum Builds For Lower Minnesota BAC Threshold
Several months after Utah lawmakers reduced that state’s definition of “intoxicated” from a .08 BAC to a .05 BAC, a new report suggests that the Gopher State should do the same thing. How would the change affect Minneapolis drunk driving damage claims?
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine suggested the move as part of a comprehensive plan that includes stiffer enforcement of underage drinking laws and significantly increasing — perhaps even doubling — the alcohol sales tax. In the 1980s and 1990s, when states lowered their thresholds from .10 to .08, the number of alcohol-related car crash deaths fell significantly. Progress has plateaued since then, and researchers hope that lowering the limit again would have a similar effect to the one it had before.
Many countries, including Canada, have a .05 BAC, and they have seen the number of alcohol-related car crash deaths almost plummet, in some cases.
The Effect on Minneapolis First Party Liability Claims
In most cases, women would reach a .05 BAC after about two drinks and men who weigh more than 180 pounds would be legally intoxicated after three drinks. The lower threshold would probably mean more DUI arrests, which would also mean a broader application of the negligence per se shortcut in Minnesota drunk driving civil liability claims. This doctrine applies if the tortfeasor (negligent driver):
- Violates a safety law, like the DUI law or a moving traffic violation, and
- That violation substantially causes the Minneapolis car crash.
In most cases, negligence per se is absolute proof of negligence. The only defense is that the conduct was legally excused, a defense that’s very unlikely to work in a drunk driving case.
Even if the tortfeasor only has one drink and is therefore not intoxicated as far as the criminal law is concerned, the tortfeasor could still be responsible for damages in civil court. Scientifically, impairment begins with just one drink. Moreover, the burden of proof is much lower in civil court. That’s largely why a criminal jury acquitted former football star O.J. Simpson of double murder in the 1990s, but a civil jury heard essentially the same evidence and concluded he was legally responsible.
Damages in a .05 BAC Case
Under Minnesota’s broad dram shop law, a restaurant, private club, or other alcohol provider may be jointly responsible for damages. Vicarious liability would be easier to establish with a lower BAC level, because victim/plaintiffs must only establish that the tortfeasor was obviously intoxicated at the time of sale. If the legislature changes the definition of “intoxicated,” the definition of “obviously intoxicated” logically changes as well.
In addition to compensatory damages, more victim/plaintiffs may be entitled to punitive damages with a lower threshold. Most jurors consider three times the legal limit to be excessively and recklessly intoxicated. Under current law, that’s .24, but under the proposed lower threshold, that’s only .15.
A cap may apply in punitive damages cases.
Reach Out to an Assertive Attorney
Drunk driving crash victims are often entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Minnesota, contact the Gunther Law Office. After-hours visits are available.