The use of marijuana is legal in Florida under certain situations when the user has the proper authorization for medical use. So if someone legally using medical marijuana is involved in a car accident, can their marijuana use affect their liability for the accident? Is the situation different than when a driver is under the influence of marijuana illegally for recreational use?
Definition of Driving While Impaired
A driver in Florida is not allowed to be in physical control of a vehicle under Florida Statute §316.193 if they are “under the influence” of a controlled substance when that substance affects them “to the extent that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.” The law does not specify whether the substance is obtained legally or illegally, or whether its use was legal or not.
Florida Statute §316.1934 reiterates the prohibition, clarifying that a person should not drive if their “normal faculties are impaired” or if affected to the extent that they are “deprived of full possession of normal faculties.” The statute continues on to define “faculties” to include the ability to:
- Judge distances
- Drive an automobile
- Make judgments
- Act in emergencies
- Perform the normal “mental and physical acts of daily life”
So, if a driver is using a substance “controlled” as a drug – and marijuana fits that category—then they may not legally drive if drug use has deprived them of full use of any of those abilities.
Difference Between Types of Medical Marijuana Products
The cannabis plant can be grown and processed to have varying amounts of the psychoactive component THC that produce the “high” sensation prized by recreational users. Some versions contain only CBD, which produces certain medical benefits. There is little information available about whether treatments containing only CBD can impair a driver’s faculties, but the few studies available show no impairment in thinking or driving ability. However, it is possible that CBD use could react with other medications, and it can cause drowsiness and lethargy in some users.
Studies involving the impairment caused by THC are more prevalent. The CDC reports that THC impacts the portions of the brain that control movement, coordination, balance, judgment, and memory, and therefore it distorts drivers’ perception, slows down reaction times, and impairs the ability to make decisions. They point to studies showing that “the risk of being involved in a crash increases after marijuana use.”
Impaired Drivers Can Be Liable
It is easier to hold an impaired driver liable for harm resulting from an accident. However, it is more difficult to prove impairment by marijuana than by alcohol or some other substances. With alcohol, police routinely administer blood alcohol tests to measure levels that indicate impairment.
Test results are far less accurate for cannabis use because the substance remains in the body for much longer. Results from a drug test can show marijuana that was used days or weeks ago, so testing is not a reliable method to demonstrate legal impairment.
An accident attorney can look for other evidence to establish that marijuana use impaired a driver’s ability to perceive or react properly to conditions on the road. It may also be possible to find witnesses who can confirm the use of medical marijuana, which can make it easier to connect with resulting driver errors.
Collection and preservation of evidence are crucial to demonstrate liability and hold the responsible driver accountable. The more evidence you have to show how another driver’s negligent behavior caused the accident, the more likely it is that an insurance company or judge will provide the compensation to cover your tangible and intangible losses caused by the collision.
Work with an Experienced Attorney After an Accident with a Potentially Impaired Driver
The factors that trigger a car accident are usually the result of one person’s irresponsible, negligent behavior. Driving under the influence of medical marijuana is one form of negligent conduct that can cause an accident, but any form of negligence can be enough to establish liability and shift some of the financial burdens off the shoulders of the victim and onto the shoulders of the person responsible.
To prove negligence, however, you need solid evidence assembled and presented with sophisticated legal skills. The experienced team at the Maus Law Firm is ready to assist. We understand how to protect the rights of accident victims and how to get fair compensation for the full array of consequences, including their pain and suffering.
For a free confidential case analysis, contact us today.