Keeping our Kids Safe: Alarming number of injuries/deaths of children in DUI/drinking accidents | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

On May, 19, 2007 a 6 year old boy was killed in Portsmouth, Virginia (VA) when his father ran the SUV off the road, crossed the median, struck a guardrail and overturned. The father had been drinking, and using illegal drugs the night before. He was not only speeding, driving recklessly but was driving with a suspended driver’s license. The kindergarten boy was ejected from the vehicle and died.According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) between 1997 and 2001, 1,985 child passengers died in alcohol-related crashes over two-thirds of these children were killed while riding with a drinking driver. MADD has identified common problems surrounding this type of child endangerment.The most common problems are:Cases are not properly charged, resulting in a lack of prosecution;Properly charged cases are often plea bargained down or dismissed;Reports made to child protective agencies are not documented or investigated;There is a general lack of awareness of the breadth and scope of the issue;Divorced parents who are confronted with this issue face legal challenges and the financial risk of subjecting themselves to civil contempt actions by refusing visitation privileges;Many lack the financial resources to seek relief in the civil court court system.Child abuse or neglect is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as:”When a child’s parent or custodian, by reason of cruelty, mental capacity, immorality or depravity, is unfit to properly care for him or her, neglects or refuses to provide necessary physical, affectional, medical, surgical or institutional care for him or her or is under such improper care or control as to endanger his or her morals or health.”Child endangerment as it pertains to impaired driving falls into the above legal definition of child abuse. An impaired parent or caregiver who knowingly puts a child in the car with the intent to drive is making a choice. This choice falls under the “improper care…as to endanger his or her [the child/children’s] morals or health.”Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes kill someone every 31 minutes and non-fatally injure someone every two minutes. More than half of the 414 child passengers ages 14 and younger who died in alcohol-related crashes during 2005 were riding with the drinking driver. Forty-eight children age 14 years and younger were killed as pedestrians or cyclist were struck by impaired drivers according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.Despite the severity of the punishment for driving under the influence with a child in the car on a reasonably regular basis, law enforcement officers report making DUI arrests of people who have children in their vehicles.Many of our clients do not realize that Virginia, North Carolina, and most other states usually allow a spouse or child to make a personal injury or wrongful death claim (and/ or file suit) against another spouse or parent. This odd situation arises when a careless parent causes the wrongful death of their own child, or causes serious personal injuries. Virtually every car insurance policy would provide liability coverage to the driver/parent, despite the claimant being a spouse or even a child. A guardian or “next best friend” is appointed for purposes of being the child’s representative in a lawsuit of this type. Often, the difficult decision becomes economically obvious. There may be no source of compensation for the spouse or child’s injuries otherwise. We have handled many injury claims where a wife recovers from a husband, or where the back seat passenger children must make a personal injury claim against the driver/parent.