Voluntary Intoxication and Consequences

Posted Saturday, November 19, 2016 by Ed Harper

Voluntary intoxication used as an offense sword or defensive shield.Washington Pattern Instruction (WPI) 12.01 states the following: “A person who becomes intoxicated is held to the same standard of care as one who is not so affected.” WPI 12.01. and the instructions in brackets indicate the information of a person’s intoxication may be considered by the jury, together with all the other facts and circumstances, in determining whether that person was negligent.The case of Keck v Blair (cite) provides some answers into whether this jury instruction should be given. The question of one’s voluntary intoxication and the potential issues that arise when one is drinking (or drugging) and then gets injured and one comes to their aid. In this case, John Blair had consumed 3 -4 beers at a local tavern. He then proceeded to a friend’s house, and then headed home. He was driving eastbound on State Route 2. Blair then was negligent and crashed into another vehicle, and then swerved and was pinned against the guardrail. At least two people came to his aid, one being Arthur Keck. Keck was killed when struck by another vehicle while assisting Blair across SR 2 attempting to get Blair to safety.Thus, did Blair’s intoxication and exhibition of sufficient symptoms of intoxication indicate to rescuers they needed to assist him? This interplay, between one’s intoxication and the proximate cause of a collision was discussed at length regarding the rescue doctrine. (state what this is). Here, Arthur Keck came to the rescue of John Blair as a result of John Blair’s negligence not only in crashing his car into another vehicle, but the potential of his intoxicated state after the wreck provided Mr. Keck with sufficient justification to help aid and assist Mr. Blair in extricating him from the scene. “Because Blair appeared intoxicated and was bleeding…felt it too dangerous to leave him alone with his truck…and could not get out of his car or the highway without help, and he was very drunk. Given Blair’s condition, leaving him there on the highway would have exposed him to the threat of additional injury. Blair needed our immediate help, asked for our help, and got our help.” Keck at 108. The rescue doctrine generally excuses the alleged negligence of the rescuer allowing their injury claims to go forward. Additionally, the rescue doctrine helps establish proximate cause by providing that where a defendant has created a situation of peril for another the defendant is held to have caused the peril not only to the victim but also to his rescuer. Keck at 111.
Here, Blair concedes he was negligent when he looked away from the road to retrieve a cassette tape, and, as a result, ran into the car ahead of him. A jury could determine that it was that negligence which caused peril not only to Blair but also to Keck because without it, the danger to Keck would not have existed. Keck at 112.So, should the jury receive an instruction on Blair’s voluntary intoxicated state? The court reasoned further and according to witnesses “He was acting ‘goofy,’ smelled of alcohol, and appeared to have an injured or broken leg. It was reasonable to infer from those facts that, if Keck and Cormican had left Blair at the scene, he could easily have been hit by a car, especially given his apparent condition of being drunk…” Keck at 114.Consequently, the case must be remanded for a jury to determine whether Keck acted reasonably in concluding that Blair was in imminent peril and whether the peril required the immediate action he took. Keck at 115.Why do we care? A jury determines the facts in a case and whether one was acting negligently. To instruct them accurately and completely on what the law is, is crucial to how they interpret the law to the facts. Thus, in this case, they would be allowed to consider whether one’s intoxicated state was a factor in causing this death.

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