Under the Influence of Alcohol or any Drug – Driving a Motor Vehicle

Posted Thursday, January 19, 2017 by Ed Harper

Under the Influence of Alcohol or any Drug – Driving a Motor Vehicle

WPI 16.04.01 states the following: “A driver is under the influence of alcohol or any drug if, as a result of using alcohol or any drug, the person’s ability to drive a motor vehicle is lessened in any appreciable degree.” (WPI 16.04.01)

The determination by a trial judge of whether this instruction should be given is often a confounding issue. The issue of intoxication arises often in criminal cases and the jury instruction there is WPI 92.10. It has been found in criminal cases a jury often misunderstands the word “appreciable.” Therefore, the notes indicate it may assist the jury to define the word “appreciable” as meaning “capable of being perceived or noticed.” W. Statsky, Legal Thesaurus,/Dictionary (1985).

Therefore, in civil cases a judge must also consider when this instruction should be given if there is some evidence of one being intoxicated and then claiming injuries. At the trial court level, in the case of Madill vs. Los Angeles Seattle Motor Express, Inc., 64 Wn.2d 548, 390 P2d 821 (1964) the court analyzed and gave an instruction which ultimately was incorrectly allowed to be given to the jury. Thus, the verdict was overturned on appeal. The issue in Madill pertained to the fact that there was “insufficient evidence in the case to raise the issue of whether Mrs. Madill was under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor; the instruction is therefore prejudicial and the plaintiffs have been denied a fair trial.” Madill, at 550.

When determining whether a trial court should have submitted an issue to the jury when there was no substantial evidence concerning it, this will result in prejudicial error allowing for the appeal to be granted. Levitt vs. DeYoung, 43 Wn.2d 701, at 707.

Therefore in this case “the fact that Mrs. Madill, a plaintiff, had more than one bottle of beer is conceivable; however we do not know that this as a fact from the evidence, in such a conclusion would be based on mere speculation. There is complete absence of any evidence that she was under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor at the time of the accident.” Madill, at 553.

The facts in Madill in essence were as follows: Mrs. Madill swerved in front of a truck without warning, resulting in the truck rear ending her car. There was an issue of whether Mrs. Madill swerved her cut in front of the truck caused the truck to rear end the Madill vehicle causing a collision.

The appellate court analyzed the situation “as one where it is also conceivable that a sober person would be subject to such conduct by inadvertence, this judgment, or negligence. Therefore it cannot be said that her conduct was evidence of intoxication.” Madill, at 554.

It seems in Madill the defendant in the civil case was unable to establish that Mrs. Medill, the plaintiff, who had imbibed some alcohol, had evidenced any conduct quote that affected her ability to drive to any appreciable degree. Therefore, this jury instruction should not have been given in this case.

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