Driving under the influence of marijuana, or any other drug, is treated much the same way as drunk driving in New Mexico, although there are important differences in the burdens of proof for criminal convictions in these cases. It is not necessary that a criminal prosecution be successful, or even that criminal charges be brought, to bring a civil personal injury claim against a drugged driver who has caused a car, motorcycle, or other type of crash. Roadrunner Law Firm has recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars for clients injured in collisions caused by high or drugged drivers.
Criminal Convictions versus Civil Liability
If you have been hurt in a vehicle collision by someone high on drugs, including marijuana, that person can be subject to criminal consequences. The Jury Instruction, UJI 14-4501 for essential elements of proving driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor reads:
. . . as a result of drinking liquor the defendant was less able to the slightest degree to exercise the clear judgment and steady hand necessary to handle a vehicle with safety. . .
There is a separate Jury Instruction for Driving while under the influence of drugs (UJI 14-4502). It states in relevant part,
. . . at the time of driving, the defendant was under the influence of drugs to such a degree that the defendant was incapable of safely driving a vehicle. . .
There is also the DWI/DUI statute in New Mexico (NMSA 66-8-102) which addresses both alcohol and drug use while driving.
There is no marijuana or drug equivalent of a Breathalyzer test that suspected drunken drivers are required to take under the state’s Informed Consent Law. The only way to test for most drugs is through a blood test, which requires a search warrant. State law does not allow a search warrant in the typical impaired driving case.
Officers can administer a Breathalyzer in an alcohol related crash, but they have to call a specially trained officer to administer field tests to determine if someone is under the influence of a drug. These “drug recognition experts” must complete extensive training and there are few officers qualified as experts.
It is important to understand, though, that civil liability is different than criminal penalties. A drugged, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated driver can be responsible for paying civil damages (money) to a person they injure, even if they never go to jail or pay a fine in the criminal system.
Issues In Civil Cases
While it is excellent proof that someone was drugged while driving if they are arrested at the scene, civil attorneys do not need that level of proof. Our case to the insurance company that very bad punitive conduct existed in the collision can be based on several other facts, for example:
- Police report mentioning drugs or drug paraphernalia
- The circumstances of the wreck, extreme speeds, going the wrong way, etc
- Witness statements
- Photos of drugs or drug paraphernalia in or around the car
- A combination of these facts
Even if the bad driver is never arrested or convicted of DUI/DWI, a good civil attorney can recover special damages for you! Why are these “special damages” important? Keep reading.
Punitive Damages – Special Damages in Drugged Driving Cases
People who have been injured by a drunk, high, or drugged driver in New Mexico need a personal injury lawyer. In addition to the usual “compensatory damages” available to all individuals injured due to someone else’s negligence, victims of drunk, drugged, or high driving may be able to claim a very specific type of monetary damages – punitive damages.
The New Mexico Jury Instructions (UJI 13-1827) explain punitive damages in the civil law context. They state that if a jury finds the conduct of the bad driver to be:
. . . malicious, willful, reckless, wanton, fraudulent or in bad faith, they can award punitive damages.
All these words have separate definitions in the Jury Instructions. For Example, “malicious conduct” is the intentional doing of a wrongful act with knowledge that the act was wrongful. Driving while under the influence of a drugs or alcohol may fit this definition, or may fit one of the other defined acts that allows for the award of punitive damages.
How much do I get in Punitive Damages?
That question is asked by our clients all the time. Unfortunately, there is no set formula for punitive damages. It really does depend on the severity of the bad conduct, how much harm was caused, how badly the person was impaired and whether they have a prior history of driving violations. Many other facts can add to the calculation of punitive damages. Even more importantly, an experienced personal injury attorney knows the right way to build a claim for punitive damages, and the team at Roadrunner Law Firm knows exactly how to turn a punitive damages claim into thousands of dollars in our clients’ pockets.
Do I also Get Other Damages?
In addition to punitive damages, injured victims of drugged drivers can also recover medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages and other damages. Only an experienced personal injury lawyer like the New Mexico-based legal team at Roadrunner Law Firm has the expertise to build your case for all the damages you are entitled to.
Do not handle these types of cases yourself. You need a lawyer to help you build the biggest case possible. We can put more money in your pocket if you suspect drugged or high driving was the cause of your collision.
- $55,000 recovered by pedestrian hit by man high on marijuana while driving