We are in the midst of a nationwide crisis of opioid drug use and overdose, particularly when it comes to heroin, fentanyl and its derivatives.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports 90 Americans a day are overdosing on opioids. It is now the leading cause of accidental death among adults, surpassing both motor-vehicle collisions and gun violence. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died of a drug overdose, while an estimated 2 million U.S. residents suffered from a substance abuse disorder involving opioid painkillers.
Nowhere are the risks higher than in Alabama, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting Alabama now has more opioid prescriptions than people, according to a recent report from Blue Cross & Blue Shield.
Consequently, your Alabama injury lawyer must be aware of opioid use as a possible contributing factor in your car accident lawsuit.
Impact of Drug Use on Alabama Car Accidents
The use of opioids significantly increases the risk of auto accident involvement and increases the likelihood an abuser will be found at fault for the crash, according to a meta analysis of opioid use and motor vehicle crashes published in Science Direct.
In Alabama, about one-fourth of Blue Cross & Blue Shield customers filled an opioid prescription in 2015. Some 6.5 percent of the company's insured were on a long-term opioid regimen, nearly twice the national average.
In January, Alabama released a plan to fight the opioid epidemic, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
In the meantime, motorists and personal injury attorneys must continue to deal with the consequences.
Opioid Use and Injury Liability in Alabama
Under Alabama negligence law, plaintiffs must prove several elements: duty of care, breach of duty, cause, proximate cause and damages. Any drug use that results in impairment would go toward proving breach of duty. That is, the at-fault driver had a duty to use reasonable care in operating his or her motor vehicle and breached that duty by driving while under the influence of narcotics.
But it's a two-edged sword because Alabama is one of the last remaining states that recognize contributory negligence as a complete bar to recovery. In this state, contributory negligence is recognized as an affirmative defense (ARCP, Rule 8(c)) Jackson v. Waller, 410 So.2d 98 (1982).
In other words, if you have an opioid prescription and are involved in a collision, the defense counsel could try to argue your drug use contributed to the collision. And, unfortunately, if you are found in any way at fault, you could be barred from making a recovery.
The Washington Post reported last year that drivers killed in crashes are now, for the first time, more likely to be under the influence of drugs than alcohol.
Consequently, your personal injury attorney must be prepared to look for drug use on the part of an at-fault driver as a cause for your motor vehicle collision, even while being prepared to represent a client whose legal and proper use of prescription narcotics becomes an issue of contributory negligence in the wake of a serious or fatal motor vehicle collision in Alabama.
Speaking to an experienced auto accident attorney after a collision is always the best course of action. Ideally, you should have legal representation before making any statements to law enforcement, and certainly before interacting with any insurance company.