Getting a Recovery for a Fatal Automobile Crash; Some Further Thoughts about The Taconic State Parkway Disaster


It appears that the mother who entered and drove the wrong way on the Taconic State Parkway a couple of weeks ago was intoxicated with vodka and marijuana according to toxicology reports.  See our prior post here.

The woman, driving her two children and three nieces, entered the wrong way onto the parkway and had a fatal head-on collision with another vehicle of three adults.  A total of eight died; the sole survior was the woman’s son who is in serious condition.

There is no question that this woman caused this horrendous accident.  However, the family of the victims of the other vehicle seek to impose liability upon the woman’s husband on the claim that they knew or should have known that she was going to drive in an intoxicated state. 

Although we sympathize with the survivors, there appears to be no legal authority to impose liability upon the husband or others except under certain circumstances.

First, it is an elemental rule that the operator of the vehicle is responsible for her negligent driving.   

Second, a husband will not be responsible for the negligence of his wife.  Similarly, a wife will not be liable for her husband’s wrongful acts.

Third, in addition to the operator, if the vehicle is owned by someone other than the operator, the owner would be liable for the operator’s acts under the theory of vicarious liability.  The owner is liable even if he has no control over the operator and is not present.  Vicarious liability has been adopted in the state’s Vehicle and Traffic Law.

Therefore, if the wife owned the vehicle, then the husband would have no liability.  She would have 100% responsibility for the accident.  However, if the husband owned the vehicle, then the husband would be liable for the incident under the doctrine of vicarious liability.  There is no need to show that the husband either knew or should have known that his wife would have “driven drunk” that day.

Finally, there does not appear to be liability against either husband or another person for allowing the mother to “drive drunk.”   However, there may be criminal liability against the father for endangering the welfare of a child if he knew or had reason to know that his wife was intoxicated.

The only exception to the foregoing is the situation where the mother stopped at a bar and became intoxicated at the bar before the accident.  Under the Dram Shop Act, the bar would be liable on the basis that it contributed to her intoxication.  However, there is no evidence that the mother stopped at a bar prior to the accident.  The evidence indicates that she left a campsite with the children, had breakfast at McDonald’s, and then proceeded downstate.  It appeas that she consumed vodka from a bottle which was found in her vehicle’s wreckage.

If  you or a family member has been involved in a serious automobile accident, please call me at 800-581-1434 or write to letters@seitelman.com for a free consultation.

Mark E. Seitelman, 8/10/09, www.seitelman.com.

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