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DUI Injuries Determine Damages, Not Guilt

You’re out on the Strip. Celebrating. Having a good time. Hours later when you and your buddy leave, whether your buddy is fit to drive is questionable. But you let them get behind the wheel, you climb into the passenger seat, and the unfortunate happens. An accident. And you’re seriously injured.

Or … you’re out on the Strip. As you leave to go home you jaywalk or cross the street on a red light. You’re hit by a drunk driver and sustain injuries.

Who’s liable?

Under Cromer v. Wilson, 225 P. 3d 788 – Nev: Supreme Court 2010, the state’s high court ruling would hold that the party driving, who was inebriated, AND the person not driving whether a passenger or pedestrian are both liable. The difference is the liability of the driver is taken into account in determining whether the driver is innocent or guilty of a criminal act, while the liability of the passenger or pedestrian is taken into account in determining how much damages are awarded if the driver is found guilty.

In Cromer, Cromer was a passenger in a car driven by Wilson when Wilson ran off the road. The car rolled several times and Cromer was seriously injured, suffering two spinal vertebrae fractures, four broken ribs, a broken wrist, and a broken collarbone. .

At the time of the accident, Wilson’s blood alcohol content (BAC) registered 0.31. An ensuing toxicology report showed Wilson also had cocaine in his system. Subsequently, Wilson was found guilty of two felonies – a DUI and reckless driving (he was speeding when the accident occurred).

An incomplete quadriplegic, with severe disabilities in his legs, arms, and hands, Cromer sued Wilson for his injuries. He asked the court for a ruling of a summary judgment claiming under Nevada law Wilson’s felony convictions automatically made Wilson liable for Cromer’s injuries. In defense, Wilson pleaded comparative negligence, claiming that Cromer was legally responsible for his injuries.

Nevada’s district court held that Cromer was not entitled to a summary judgment because, by Wilson pleading comparative negligence, whether there was liability, the amount of each person’s liability, and the amount of damages now were a question of fact to be determined by a jury. At trial, a jury assessed fault as follows: 25% for Cromer, 75% for Wilson, and awarded damages of $4.5 million. Cromer appealed arguing the district court erred in not awarding him summary judgment and allowing Wilson to argue comparative negligence.

The Nevada Supreme Court agreed with Cromer.

Under NRS 41.133, “conviction of crime is conclusive evidence of facts necessary to impose civil liability for related injury. If an offender has been convicted of the crime which resulted in the injury to the victim, the judgment of conviction is conclusive evidence of all facts necessary to impose civil liability for the injury.” As such, Wilson’s felony convictions automatically made him liable for Cromer’s injuries and a summary judgment to this fact should have been rendered.

Furthermore under NRS 41.141, “in any action to recover damages for death or injury to persons or for injury to property in which comparative negligence is asserted as a defense, the comparative negligence of the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s decedent does not bar a recovery if that negligence was not greater than the negligence or gross negligence of the parties to the action against whom recovery is sought.” As such, any negligence Cromer may have had should be taken into account in determining damages, not liability.

As the district court used an incorrect method, but did reach the correct outcome, the high court upheld the judgment.

The commentary is for educational and commentary purposes only. If you or someone you know has suffered from a driver under the influence or feel your rights have been violated, and would like to be represented by a Nevada attorney, contact our office for a free confidential case review and receive a response within hours. Call Toll Free 866-414-0400.