Florida is now one of 33 states that permit the use of cannabis (marijuana) for medical purposes. Governor Ron De Santis plans to press for a further easing of restrictions on medical marijuana. Whatever one’s own opinion of cannabis, it’s clear that use is on the rise in our state. It’s also clear that cannabis impairs cognitive functions and motor skills. As a result, we must expect cannabis impairment (DUI) to be involved in more accidents of all kinds.
Florida law says a person is guilty of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) whether impaired by alcohol, drugs, or cannabis. In the case of alcohol, the law is straightforward. There’s a field test for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). There’s a legal BAC limit. Above it, a person is legally impaired. In the case of cannabis, though, there is no “breathalyzer” test. There’s no legally-defined equivalent of the BAC. Moreover, the NHTSA finds that THC levels measured by blood or urine tests don’t reliably correlate with impairment.
CANNABIS AND LIABILITY
So, how can cannabis play into a personal injury claim? How can a plaintiff’s lawyer show that a defendant was impaired? And that this caused the injury? Absent a BAC -type standard, he or she builds a case with other kinds of evidence. The mechanics of the accident can be helpful. Experts can show that the accident would easily have been avoided by an unimpaired driver. Third-party witnesses can testify to erratic driving leading up to the accident. Police reports of the defendant’s appearance and demeanor and recovery of cannabis at the scene are useful. So can be traffic cam footage.
DUI is a criminal matter, so a personal injury claim may have to wait for the criminal process to play out. It’s still crucial to get started promptly. Note that while an Rx for cannabis shields an impaired driver from drug charges, it’s not a defense in a civil case.
WAITING FOR THE SCIENCE
We need sharper legal definitions of cannabis impairment. The law, in this case, isn’t dragging its feet. One reason there’s no cannabis version of the BAC standard is we just don’t know enough yet about how cannabis affects people. For now, an experienced personal injury lawyer is an injured person’s best resource when cannabis DUI is an issue. One who knows how to assemble and organize the evidence, and stays up to date on case law.