After years of failed attempts, New York finally legalized recreational marijuana for people age 21 and older. While adults over 21 may possess up to three ounces of cannabis or 24 grams of concentrated cannabis for recreational use, driving under the influence of marijuana is still illegal in New York. Drivers who cause accidents while impaired by marijuana face not only criminal consequences but also legal liability for the expenses and impacts of the injuries they cause.
If someone driving under the influence of marijuana in New York injured you, the experienced accident attorneys at Finkelstein & Partners can help you seek compensation for your injuries through a personal injury claim.
The Impacts of Marijuana on Driving
Marijuana impairs a person’s driving abilities and does not make a person a safer driver. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the illicit drug most often found in the blood of drivers involved in crashes. Two European studies have indicated that drivers with THC in their blood are about twice as likely to cause an accident than sober drivers.
Tests can detect THC which is an abbreviation for tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana in a person’s bloodstream for days after marijuana use, which makes it difficult to prove if a driver is still technically impaired.
Previously, a police officer could charge someone with driving while impaired if they smelled the odor of marijuana in the car. However, with the use of the drug now legal, charging someone requires more proof than that. Alcohol and marijuana impair many individuals whom police stop under suspicion of driving under the influence. The combination of the two drugs increases the likelihood of an accident.
Marijuana can have these effects on a person’s driving ability:
- Impaired judgment;
- Deficits to motor coordination;
- Difficulty concentrating on driving or paying attention to the roadway;
- Difficulty maintaining lane position;
- A slowed reaction time in emergency driving situations; and
- Difficulty multitasking, which driving requires.
The Consequences of Drugged Driving
Shortly before New York legalized recreational marijuana, the national auto club AAA released a study on how legalization affected the rate of impaired driving crashes in other states.
Here are some of the highlights from that report:
- In the five years before the state of Washington approved recreational marijuana use, around 8.8 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for THC. In the years since the drug was made legal, that rate has climbed to about 18 percent.
- Surveys indicate that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe that a police officer will not stop a driver operating a motor vehicle shortly after smoking marijuana.
- Chemical tests for marijuana-impaired driving in states where the drug is legal are unable to take into consideration the fact that marijuana impairs people differently, the test detects usage from days earlier, and testing is often conducted many hours after the stop or accident.
- An estimated 14.8 million drivers in the U.S. got behind the wheel of a vehicle within an hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days.
The Insurance Information Institute provides more information on the matter, including:
- Marijuana cannot result in an overdose. However, the drug can produce temporary psychosis, including high anxiety that results in the user seeking medical treatment for a suspected overdose.
- Marijuana intoxication depends on how the user consumed marijuana (smoking, consuming edibles, or using concentrates, topical use, or sublingual ingestion through lozenges). These factors can influence how intense the high is, the duration of the impairment, and how quickly impairment begins after consumption.
- Fatal crash rates didn’t just increase in Washington. Other states also saw a jump in fatal crashes after altering their laws regarding the use of cannabis, including California, Colorado, Nevada, and Oregon. These states had a combined average increase of 6 percent in injury crashes and 4 percent in fatal crashes.
- Insurance companies also witnessed an increase in crash claims following marijuana legalization in other states.
- Research indicates that chronic, heavy use of marijuana can impair driving skills even more than 12 hours after the driver got high.
- Surveys show that the prevalence of drivers involved in accidents who tested positive for marijuana increased by 48 percent over the past 10 years.
- While standard and commercial auto policies currently don’t exclude coverage for accidents in which a person tests positive for marijuana, the federal government requires drivers of commercial vehicles who hold a CDL to undergo drug screenings before being hired and at random times throughout the year.
What to Do if You Were Injured in an Accident Caused by a Drugged Driver
If a driver who you or the police have reason to believe was high on marijuana injured you, take many of the steps you would if the driver wasn’t impaired.
Those steps include:
- Remaining at the scene until the police have arrived to take a report.
- Obtaining evidence from the scene if you can do so safely, including taking photos of the damage to the vehicles, photos that show the scene of the accident, and photos of other evidence left at the scene, including skid marks and debris on the roadway.
- Exchanging information with the other driver, including names and contact information, driver’s license and license plate numbers, insurance provider names and policy numbers, and the make, model, and color of other vehicles involved in the accident.
- Obtaining the name and badge number of responding police officers and inquiring how to obtain a copy of the police report.
- Seeking a prompt medical evaluation and treatment for your injuries.
- Reporting the accident to your insurance provider. Note: Even though the accident was not your fault and even if you do not plan to file a claim against your own insurance policy, you are required to report all accidents involving an insured vehicle.
- Contacting an experienced car accident attorney who can provide more information about how to seek compensation and can assist you in that process.
What Evidence Can Prove Marijuana Impairment?
As you are likely aware from the information already provided, proving that someone is driving while impaired by marijuana is difficult. There are no standard roadside sobriety tests to indicate impairment and drivers can test positive for THC even if they have not consumed marijuana for days.
Some of the evidence an experienced attorney will look for when building a case includes:
- A police report indicating that the driver was tested and charged with Driving While Ability Impaired.
- The results of a chemical test indicating that the other driver tested positive for THC when considered in combination with other factors such as that the driver was weaving or otherwise driving as if they were impaired.
- Other evidence of potential impairment, such as failure to maintain a travel lane or the vehicle striking another car or object that the driver should have seen and stopped for if they had been paying attention. When seeking compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, you don’t necessarily need to prove that the driver was impaired, but simply that their actions resulted in the accident that caused your injury.
The Personal Injury Claims Process
If you were injured in an accident caused by someone who drove under the influence of marijuana in New York, you must first seek compensation for your injury from your personal injury protection (PIP) policy. This no-fault insurance policy replaces a portion of any wage loss and covers all reasonable medical expenses up to the limit of your policy. New York drivers must carry at least $50,000 in PIP coverage.
In cases in which an individual suffers an injury that meets the state’s serious injury threshold, the claimant may file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party. This is a legal claim filed in civil court that seeks to prove who was liable (legally responsible) for the accident and show the expenses and psychological impacts that you have incurred as a result of your injury.
The conditions that satisfy the state’s serious injury threshold include injuries that result in:
- Significant disfigurement;
- A bone fracture;
- Permanent limitation of use of an important body organ or member;
- A significant limitation of use of a body function or system; and
- A substantially full disability that lasts for at least 90 days.
While you must file personal injury lawsuits in New York within three years of the accident, most personal injury claims do not begin by filing a lawsuit. First, your attorney submits a demand package to the at-fault party’s insurance provider. This package includes details of the accident, an estimated value to the claim, and available documentation to prove your expenses.
Upon receiving the package, the at-fault party’s insurance adjuster can take one of three possible actions:
- They can deny the claim, in which case the insurance company will notify you and provide a reason for the denial.
- They can approve the claim, in which case the insurance company admits liability and issues payment.
- The insurance adjuster can offer a settlement amount that is less than the full value of the claim.
Most often, an insurance adjuster will go with the third option, which begins settlement negotiations. Your attorney will continue to negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf until you reach an agreement on a fair settlement or until you with the guidance of your attorney determine that it is time to file a lawsuit.
Once you file a lawsuit, the discovery phase of the process begins. Your attorney will have the opportunity to collect evidence from the defense, depose witnesses, and file motions in court in preparation for litigation. They will also continue negotiations with the insurance company. You can come to a settlement agreement any time before the court renders a decision about your case
The Damages You Can Claim
In personal injury cases, the compensation you receive for the harm you suffered in the accident is called damages.
Economic damages compensate you for the expenses you have incurred as a result of your injury, such as:
- Medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Loss of future earning capacity;
- Property damage, such as the cost of repairing or replacing the car you were driving when the accident occurred; and
- The cost of household services that you can’t perform due to your injury.
Non-economic damages are the compensation you can receive for the quality-of-life impacts of your injury.
Examples of the impacts commonly included in New York DWAI accident cases include:
- Physical pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress; and
- Loss of the enjoyment of life.
Let Finkelstein & Partners Help You With Your Claim
While legal marijuana in New York is a new phenomenon, holding impaired drivers responsible for the injuries they cause is not. For 60 years, Finkelstein & Partners has assisted individuals who were injured in car accidents caused by reckless behavior. We are ready to talk with you about your case, provide information on the legal process, learn more about how your injuries occurred, and help you understand our role in assisting you with your claim.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.