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Negligence in Boston Drunk Driving Crash Cases

According to a recent news article from the Boston Globe, a New York City bus driver was involved in serious bus accident when he allegedly crashed into another bus.  He was killed, as were two others.

Boston drunk driving crashAuthorities have said this driver had a history that included multiple traffic accidents including a recent conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol.  Despite his employer allegedly knowing of his criminal and motor vehicle history, he was cleared to continue driving prior to the deadly bus crash. While there is supposed to be zero tolerance for commercial motor vehicle drivers who have been convicted of drunk driving, federal Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations allow a driver “one strike” for certain criminal conviction and this includes drunk driving. If a driver gets a second strike, he or she will be banned for life from driving a commercial motor vehicle.

This driver was however fired from his job with the city after his conviction for drunk driving.  That conviction allegedly involved him crashing his personal motor vehicle while intoxicated.  He was sentenced to probation for 18 months, and was still on probation when was hired by a charter bus company after they have ran his driver’s abstract and criminal history as they are required to do.  He had a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL) when he was hired and that was all it took for him to be legally qualified to drive another bus.  The bus he allegedly hit was carrying many passengers at the time of the crash.

At the time of this accident that resulted in his death, he was allegedly driving a bus that did not have any passengers when drove through an intersection and he collided with another bus.  Authorities have said that in addition to himself and the two others who were killed in the bus crash, 16 people were injured.  Once he allegedly collided with the other bus, he then crashed into a building.

While many drunk driving accidents in Boston involve only personal vehicles, in some cases, drunk drivers are driving a commercial motor vehicle.  In these cases, the employer may be liable if they knew or had reason to know their employee was likely to drink and get behind the wheel.

In a typical case involving a personal motor vehicle, the legal limit is 0.08 grams of ethanol (drinking alcohol) per hundred milliliters of blood, per MGL c. 90 s. 24. In a commercial motor vehicle the blood alcohol content (BAC) limit is much lower. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the legal limit for the driver of a commercial motor vehicle is 0.04 grams of ethanol per hundred milliliters of blood.  For an average adult male, one beer can be enough to put a person at or above the legal limit.  While a beer with lunch might not be enough to make a person per se intoxicated when dealing a personal motor vehicle, this is too much alcohol for the average commercial motor vehicle driver.   This is only true when the commercial driver is driving his or her commercial vehicle.  Even if a person has a CDL, when they are driving their personal vehicle the 0.08 standard applies once again.

On the other hand, a person does not have to be above either legal limit to be considered intoxicated for the person to be too drunk to drive.  If a person is under the legal limit and causes a crash that results in personal injury, that can be the basis for filing a Boston drunk driving accident claim. The true test is whether a person was impaired to an appreciable degree and that impairment actually and approximately caused the accident. There are some cases where a person is driving drunk and is involved an serious or even fatal traffic accident, but that accident was the other driver’s fault.

For example, if a person drinks to the point of intoxication and gets behind the wheel of car, they will be engaged in drunk driving.  While this drunk driver is proceeding through an intersection on a green light at a reasonable rate of speed, another driver plows though the intersection and T-bones the drunk driver causing serious personal injury.  When the police investigate, they may charge the drunk driver with an OUI, but that doesn’t mean he is responsible for the accident.  He may still have a valid personal injury claim against the actual at-fault driver.

In the case of an employer who knowingly hires a person is who is likely to drive drunk, if a crash occurs, the employer may be liable for various torts including negligent retention or negligent hire, as well as a claim known as vicarious liability for an employee or respondeat superior.

Pursuant to the law in the Commonwealth, an employer is liable for their employees negligent conduct as long as that employee was acting in furtherance of the employer’s interests at the time of the negligent conduct.  For example, if a truck driver is drinking on job and causes an accident that results in serious personal, the employer may be held responsible for any resulting damages.

The one exception to this is when an employee is not acting in his or her employer’s interest, and this is known by the rather odd term of a frolic and detour.  If an employee is acting totally in his or her own interests, and not those of the employer, than it may be considered a frolic and detour.  An example would be an employee who is on the clock and is supposed to making deliveries, but takes time off without the employer’s permission while still on the clock and goes to spend time with his girlfriend.  If this is not during an approved lunch break, it would probably not be in his employer’s interests and could be considered a frolic and detour, and the employer could be excused from liability.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston drunk driving accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

DUI Conviction Not Enough to Get NYC Bus Driver Banned from Driving, September 29, 2017, AP

More Blog Entries:

Former NFL Quarterback Vince Young Given Probation for Drunk Driving, Feb. 7, 2017, Boston Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Blog