Three in ten Americans will be involved in an alcohol related car accident at some point in their lives. Over 40,000 people in the United States die each year from alcohol related car accidents and mishaps. Alcohol was a factor in 31 percent of car accidents in 2010. And of alcohol-related deaths, a full six percent of victims are under 21 years old. In car-related deaths for people 16 to 20, one-third are alcohol related.
Our Atlanta DUI accident lawyers appreciate that our area is not immune from these accidents. For example, this week in Douglas County, a young man was convicted for his role in a fatal car accident in February 2011 that took the life of a 16 year old girl, Cheyenne Sauls. Twenty two year old Dustin Willis bought beer for her and their friends that night. Foolishly the teenagers got behind the wheel after drinking. The driver, Jason Lark, lost control of the car and crashed, throwing Miss Sauls out of the SUV. After the crash, Mr. Willis fled the scene. Mr. Lark pled guilty last year. Mr. Willis was only a passenger in the crashed car, but was still charged with homicide in the first degree and serious injury by vehicle. Yesterday the judge sentenced him to 15 years, nine of which will be behind bars, after his attorney reached a plea agreement for the young man. Mr. Willis wept in front of the judge and apologized to the victim’s family, but none of that will undo what a night of stupidity has cost.
Douglas County District Attorney David McDade said that several other people might be charged in connection with this crash and Miss Sauls’ death. Other teenagers involved, as well as a parent and grandparent for buying alcohol and permitting it to be consumed. The store owner may also be charged with furnishing alcohol.
This situation highlights the complexity of some criminal and civil cases related to car accidents and alcohol. A person may be held responsible for an accident even if he or she was not driving the car, as happened with Mr. Willis. In general, a person serving or selling alcohol is not responsible in Georgia for following incidents like car accidents, unless they were negligent. For example, knowingly served alcohol to an intoxicated person can cause a person to be held liable under Georgia law. Also, if serving alcohol to a minor, the person can be liable for the injuries to the minor and to others, even if the person was not negligent. This is on top of any criminal penalties the person might face, as Mr. Willis found out this week.
If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident, our Atlanta car accident lawyers at Sammons & Carpenter can help. Especially with a complicated case, our attorneys can determine whether you have a valid legal case and, if so, how to go forward. Georgia law related to car accidents can be confusing and the statute of limitations is short. So please get in touch with an experienced attorney. Call 404-991-5950 or fill out our confidential case evaluation form online to schedule a free consultation.
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(Photo courtesy of angsthase)