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Drivers On Opioids: Growing Threat For Accidents And Injuries


The Wisconsin Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (“WisDOT”) report that 149 individuals were killed in drug-related traffic crashes in Wisconsin. In 2017; this is a 200% increase over the past decade. Wisconsin legislators are under pressure, and they are not alone as state governments face growing concerns about the risks associated with the growing opioid crisis. A leading cause of wrongful death from auto accidents, driver incapacitation from prescription drugs, and illicit narcotic abuse are at the center of legislative debates across the country.

 Opioid Epidemic in the USA

Illicit fentanyl, heroin and prescription painkillers (i.e. Oxycontin and Vicodin) are the leading cause of drug-related deaths nationwide. Since 2016, there have been more than 63,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the United States. The same year, Minnesota reportedly saw an increase in opioid overdose deaths in 2016, with more than 259 of 395 of those cases attributed to heroin, Fentanyl, and related drugs. Neighboring Wisconsin has seen a similar rise in opioid abuse and subsequent deaths from overdose and accidents in the past several years. The National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates that without any action taken to combat the trend, the death toll will likely increase to approximately 163,000 deaths by the year 2025.

 Wrongful Death on the Road

Wrongful death lawsuits filed by the family of a deceased victim in response to a drug-related traffic accident are increasingly common in the United States today. The Department of Motor Vehicles (“DMV”) reported that the number of opioid-drug-related auto accidents has now surpassed the number of drunk driving incidents in 2018. Wisconsin Statute § 895 defines wrongful death as “a wrongful act, neglect or default” causing the killing of another. Damages awarded in such claims can be both compensatory and punitive if it is found that the responsible party acted with “recklessness” or “wantonness” during the commission of another crime subsequently found to have caused the killing of the victim.

 Statutory Reforms Underway

The Modern Penal Code (“MPC”) statutory definitions of “homicide” are incorporated into state criminal law codes in most U.S. states. Most wrongful deaths corresponding to auto accidents are categorized as “unintentional manslaughter” within state laws (Minn. § 609.19). The charge of felony murder (i.e. killing another while committing another felony act) as it is defined in the MPC, carries the same punishment as murder in the first degree (“Murder One”). With quite a few states making statutory changes to criminal laws associated with drug-related accident deaths, it is likely that the continued escalation of the opioid crisis will lead to further reforms in the coming months.

The Personal Injury Trial Lawyers

 Bye, Goff & Rohde is a law practice serving Minnesota and Wisconsin representing clients in accident injuries and wrongful death lawsuits. Contact “The Personal Injury Trial Lawyers,” at Bye, Goff & Rohde today for a free consultation in any personal injury matter.

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