Stephen Hasner | Car Accidents | April 15, 2019
You likely know that drivers who choose to take illegal substances while driving bear stricter criminal penalties if they cause an accident. But what if the driver who caused your accident did not use illegal medications, but rather he or she used legal prescription drugs. The other driver may have even used his or her medication according to a doctor’s instructions. Unfortunately, even following these instructions, medication use can involve side effects that interfere with someone’s ability to drive safely. If you suffered injuries in an accident with a driver using prescription medication, you should be aware of several key facts, which we discuss below.
Prescription Medications Carry Warnings
Most prescription medications carry labels that warn of potential side effects that may interfere with safe driving. Many medications—including pain pills, muscle relaxants, and cough syrups—include disclaimers that individuals should not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking the medication. Unfortunately, many people choose to ignore these warnings. They assume that because their doctor prescribed the medication, they can continue with their daily activities as usual. Others may view medication use as less distracting than coughing or dealing with pain while driving.
Prescription medications, however, carry warnings for a reason. Medications can cause drowsiness, dizziness, or difficulty paying attention. Drivers on prescription medications may have slowed reaction times, or they may struggle to make appropriate decisions behind the wheel. Any time drivers take a new medication, they should:
- Wait to see how the medication will hurt their driving before getting behind the wheel. Different people can have different reactions to the same medication. Some people may still drive safely after taking prescription medication. Others may struggle to remain safe on the road after a standard dose.
- Consult their doctor about how long to wait before driving again. Even after taking the last dose of a medication, patients may need time before they can safely operate heavy machinery, including a vehicle. For some medications, patients may need to wait 24 to 48 hours or more before they can safely drive. Talking with a doctor is the most effective way to safely establish this window.
- Find other means of transportation, if necessary. Uber or Lyft, calling a taxi, or using public transportation can keep drivers and others on the road safer after prescription medication use. Drivers can also contact friends and family members for rides if needed. Some facilities, including nursing homes and senior care facilities, may offer transportation to individuals who are unable to safely drive themselves.
Drivers need to exercise caution any time that they take a new medication, which may impact individuals differently over time. A senior driver, for example, may discover that they have decreased tolerance to a drug they took earlier in life, even if they routinely took that medication at a younger age.
Medication Use Doesn’t Decrease Liability
Many people argue that medication use should affect liability. The basis of this argument is that medicated drivers may have failed to recognize that they drove irresponsibly or that their mind was clouded at the time of the accident. The fact that a driver used prescription medication prior to an accident, however, does not decrease liability. In fact, in some cases, prescription medication use can increase liability following an accident. Consider:
- Did the driver using prescription medications cause the accident? If the other driver caused the accident, it does not matter what medications he or she took prior to the accident: he or she bears liability, both legal and financial, for the damages caused by the accident. When drivers use prescription medications, they bear personal liability for ensuring that they can still drive safely while under the influence of those medications. If they cause an accident due to inattention, slowed reaction times, or difficulty focusing on the road, they bear liability for that accident.
- Was the driver properly informed about the risks of using the medication? Medications must carry warning labels for good reason: so that drivers know the risks associated with using them while driving. If a doctor failed to properly inform the patient of those risks, that doctor may bear partial liability for the accident. A prescription medication without proper warning labels may also indicate improper care by the pharmacy that dispensed the medication.
- Did the driver’s medication use contribute to the accident? Sometimes, the driver using prescriptions may not cause the accident directly. Instead, they may contribute to the accident or worsen its effects due to slowed reaction times or muddled thinking. In this case, the driver may bear partial liability for the accident, even though they did not actually cause it. Working with a lawyer can help establish how much responsibility rests on the shoulders of the driver under the influence of medications. Determining this liability percentage can help decrease the financial liability of other parties involved in the accident, or in some cases, change the person who bears primary liability for the accident.
- Was the driver tested for prescription medication use? Carefully consider how the driver’s prescription medication use came to light. Did the driver admit to using the medications? Did he or she receive a blood test to help indicate the amount of the medication in his or her system at the time of the accident? To shift liability for the accident to the other driver, you may need actual evidence, some of which doctors can collect as soon as possible after an accident. The longer doctors wait to collect medical evidence, the greater the likelihood that blood tests will no longer fully reveal the extent of the other driver’s prescription medication use.
Did You Suffer Injuries in an Accident With a Driver Under the Influence of Prescription Medications?
If you suffered serious injuries in an accident with a driver who was under the influence of prescription medication, you may need legal help. Not only can a lawyer help increase the compensation amount that you can receive, but a lawyer may also help identify the side effects of driving under the influence of prescription medications and help you better understand your legal rights following an accident.
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