The family of a woman who was killed in a head-on collision has filed a lawsuit against a Myrtle Beach methadone clinic.
The woman died when a patient drove away from the Center of Hope clinic, crossed the center line, and crashed into another vehicle. The patient received a dose of methadone before leaving the clinic, and police say she had huffed dust cleaner from a can earlier in the day.
The lawsuit claims the clinic is liable for several reasons, including a failure by the staff to ensure that the patient was not impaired by other substances before administering methadone.
Do SC Dram Shop Laws Apply to a Methadone Clinic?
A lot of states have dram shop laws, which hold certain businesses like bars and restaurants responsible if they serve a customer too much alcohol before they crash their car.
While there is no specific dram shop law in South Carolina, the courts do allow people who are injured by drunk drivers to make a claim against a business that served someone alcohol after they were clearly impaired.
In theory, it might be possible to apply this concept to a methadone clinic. But, the plaintiff would have to prove that the driver was impaired - in most cases, proving impairment by methadone is more difficult than proving impairment by alcohol.
Is the Driver Liable or is the Clinic Liable?
In a DUI case, the state would have to prove not only that the driver had taken methadone, but that the levels of methadone in their system along with any drugs they had taken caused them to be intoxicated to the extent that their ability to drive was materially and substantially impaired.
To prove felony DUI resulting in death, the state would have to prove that the driver was impaired, and that the driver's negligence resulted in the accident. For DUI or felony DUI, the state must prove the elements beyond any reasonable doubt.
However, in a civil case, the burden of proof is lower. While prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case, the plaintiff in a civil case only has to prove that it is more likely than not (a preponderance of the evidence) that the defendant is liable.
In most cases, if a driver crosses the center line and hits another car head on, the driver is going to be liable in a civil lawsuit. When the driver was also intoxicated, there is no limit on punitive damages under SC law...
The open question in this case is whether the clinic is also responsible for the car crash and the victim's death.
Can Administering Methadone to an Impaired Person Make the Clinic Liable?
Addiction specialists say methadone, when administered properly in a clinic, does not cause impairment. That hasn't stopped police from charging people and even specifically targeting patients who are leaving methadone clinics. Clinic workers in New York say police wait for patients to leave, pull them for minor violations such as not using a turn signal, and then charge them with DUI.
Whether or not methadone itself causes impairment, there is no question that adding methadone to other drugs can lead to serious impairment.
That is how clinics can get themselves into trouble. If they are providing methadone to patients without ensuring that they don't already have other drugs in their system, that is negligent and they could be held liable for accidents that happen as a result. This is one of the claims in the lawsuit filed against Center of Hope.
In the lawsuit, the family claims the center was negligent because of the following:
- Failure to test the patient to see if she had consumed other drugs;
- Failure to address the fact that the patient drove to the center while impaired;
- Administration of an inappropriate or unsafe dose of methadone;
- Failure to lower the patient's dose until she stopped using other drugs;
- Failure to follow state laws and regulations that govern substance abuse treatment.
If you've been hurt in an auto accident in Myrtle Beach or the surrounding area, Your SC auto accident attorney at Axelrod and Associates will help you to determine who is liable, whether there are additional or alternate sources of compensation, and whether the defendant should pay punitive damages as part of any settlement or verdict.