Court Allows Civil Claim for Injuries Sustained During DWI Arrest to Proceed

Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 9.39.33 AMThe burden of proof is on the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. A defendant can challenge evidence based on the police’s conduct at the time of the arrest. If a traffic stop or search violated a defendant’s constitutional rights, the court may suppress any evidence obtained as a result. In some cases, however, a civil rights violation by an officer might not directly affect the outcome of a DWI case. Instead, a defendant must seek recourse through a civil claim. This is very different from DWI defense, but it is important to understand in cases in which, for example, police intentionally or recklessly cause an injury to a defendant. A New Jersey court recently ruled in favor of a DWI defendant’s claim for this type of alleged injury in Landa v. Twp. of Plainsboro.

Drunk Driving Laws

Although this case took place in New Jersey, DUI is not technically considered a criminal offense there, or under Maryland law, but the procedures involved are very similar to those used in Maryland criminal courts. Prosecutors initiate a case by filing charges against a defendant. They have the burden of proving guilt. The defense’s job, in large part, is to identify defects in the state’s case. A defendant may move to suppress evidence, or even to dismiss a case, prior to trial. If the defendant does not enter a plea, the case goes to trial, where the prosecution must present its case.

A civil claim for injuries takes place in the civil court system. The plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant is liable for whatever harm or injury they are claiming. The burden of proof is a preponderance of evidence, which is significantly less stringent than the state’s burden in a DWI case. It essentially means that the plaintiff must prove at least a 51 percent probability that the defendant is responsible.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in Landa was arrested for DWI (in Maryland, a DWI is a slightly lesser offense for a BAC of 0.07% higher while a DUI is generally for BACs of 0.08% or higher)  after a bystander reported seeing her walking erratically, including walking “directly into a light post,” and then attempting to drive with a child in the vehicle. The bystander reportedly grabbed the keys out of the ignition after calling the police. Officers arrived shortly afterwards. One officer stated that he “detected an overwhelming odor of alcohol.” The plaintiff failed several field sobriety tests, and a portable breath test indicated a blood alcohol content above 0.08 percent. The civil claim arose from injuries the plaintiff sustained, allegedly due to excessively tight handcuffs. She sought medical attention two days after the arrest and was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a muscle condition that reportedly can result from “trauma or crush injuries.”

The plaintiff sued the arresting officers and the township for civil rights violations. The defendants moved for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the case. They claimed that the plaintiff never complained about the handcuffs during her arrest, although they conceded that she said “ow” during the drive to the police station. The defendants also claimed qualified immunity from liability. The court denied the motion, which allows the case to proceed.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation to help you cover the costs associated with being in an accident. This may include amounts for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and any pain and suffering you endured as a result of the accident. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the Maryland law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have decades of experience handling all kinds of personal injury cases, including those arising from car accidents and defective products. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up your free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

71-Year-Old Woman Struck by Electric Shopping Cart, Recovers $1.3 Million from Grocery Chain, Maryland Accident Law Blog, October 17, 2016.

Accident Victim’s Bad-Faith Claim Against Insurance Company Fails Based on Legitimate Dispute of Liability and Causation, Maryland Accident Law Blog, October 3, 2016.

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