Kentucky Court finds no duty of care was owed to family involved in fatal drunk driving accident

by Mandy Hicks

The obvious defendant in a motor vehicle accident case is the person whose negligent driving caused the wreck. However, for a variety of reasons, it is possible that other defendants may be named in some lawsuits. In a fatal drunk driving accident, the plaintiff may want to sue those besides the driver who the plaintiff believes is partially responsible for the state of intoxication the driver was in.

It is usually to the plaintiff’s advantage to name as many potential defendants as possible in order to increase the chances of a settlement or judgment, especially if some defendants may be be uninsured, underinsured, or immune from suit.

Facts of the Case

In the recent (unpublished) case of Cohorn v. Carcamo, the plaintiff was the mother and administratrix of the estate of a five-year-old child who died in a motor vehicle collision that occurred when the plaintiff’s vehicle was struck head-on by an intoxicated motorist who was traveling in the wrong direction on a highway in Woodford County, Kentucky. The plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendants:  a police officer, the department for whom the officer worked, and a sheriff’s deputy.

Prior to the accident, the motorist had attended a rodeo at which the police officer and the deputy had worked as security. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the police officer had ordered the motorist to leave the premises after he was observed causing a disturbance. The plaintiff also alleged that the stable and arena at which the rodeo was held did not have a permit to sell alcoholic beverages but did so anyway.

The defendants moved to dismiss the claims against them, urging that they did not owe the plaintiff a duty of care under the circumstances. The circuit court agreed and entered an order granting summary judgment to the defendants.

The Decision on Appeal

The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed, agreeing with the circuit court that the police officer did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff under the facts of the case. The plaintiff argued that a duty existed because it was foreseeable that the rodeo patron would cause harm to others when the officer knowingly ordered him to leave the premises despite his intoxication.

The appellate court disagreed, finding that there was no “special relationship” between the plaintiff and the police officer or the department. In so finding, the court observed that the intoxicated driver was never in custody and that no state actor perpetrated the fatal collision that injured the plaintiff and killed her son. Since there was no continuous, state-created relationship between the parties, the officer did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff. There was likewise no negligence to impute to the defendant police department.

The court did not address the appeal with regard to the deputy because it found that the plaintiff did not properly challenge the lower court’s decision with respect to the deputy in her appeal.

To Talk to an Attorney About a Car Accident Case

If you or a loved one needs legal advice concerning injuries or a wrongful death suffered in a motor vehicle collision, the experienced Kentucky and Tennessee car and truck accident lawyers at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley are here to help. Call us at (270) 781-6500 to schedule a free, confidential case evaluation. Our offices are in Bowling Green, and we serve clients throughout south central Kentucky and middle Tennessee, including in Warren County, Logan County, Simpson County, Montgomery County, and Robertson County.

Related Blog Posts:

Kentucky Appellate Court holds that foreman with duty of road maintenance was not entitled to qualified immunity

School bus, tractor-trailer wreck leads to lawsuit