Pantagraph Ed.

Overview of the Model Drug Dealer Liability Act:

Legislatures across the nation are passing a unique new statute that provides redress for those injured by illegal drugs. This new law, known as the Model Drug Dealer Liability Act (DDLA), makes drug dealers civilly liable to those injured by a driver under the influence of drugs, families who lose a child to illegal drugs and others injured by illegal drugs. It is essentially a products liability act for illegal drugs.

Michigan, Oklahoma, Illinois, Hawaii, Arkansas, California, South Dakota, Utah, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Colorado, South Carolina, the U.S. Virgin Islands, New Hampshire, Tennessee and New York have passed the Model Drug Dealer Liability Act. Existing law in the remaining states does not clearly establish a means by which drug dealers can be made to pay damages for the injuries they cause. The Drug Dealer Liability Act fills that void. The first lawsuit brought under the Act resulted in a judgment on July 21, 1995 of $1 million in favor of a drug baby and more than $7 million to the city of Detroit’s expenses for providing drug treatment to inmates in Detroit jails. Two Detroit dealers were ordered to pay the damages to the drug baby’s siblings because the baby was born addicted to cocaine and was later bludgeoned to death by her mother while high on drugs. In Utah, the wife of a drug-using professional brought a Drug Dealer Liability Act case against her husband’s dealer of six years. The defendant in that case settled after losing his pretrial challenges to the Drug Dealer Liability Act. In South Dakota in April 2000 a jury returned a verdict under South Dakota’s Drug Dealer Liability Act in the amount of $268 Million in favor of a woman whose husband was killed in a head on collision with a driver under the influence of drugs. The defendant was not the driver of the car but the dealer who supplied drugs to the driver.

The Drug Dealer Liability Act offers an added new approach to illegal drugs. Since it would be impossible to identify each person in a chain of illegal drug distribution, the Act establishes a form of “market liability” so a plaintiff need only prove that a defendant was distributing illegal drugs in the community of the user who caused the plaintiff’s injuries, that the distributor was distributing the same type of drug used by the user and that the defendant’s distribution in that community was during the period of time that the user was using. The plaintiff need not prove that the drug user received a specific defendant’s illegal drugs.

Cases can be brought by guardians of drug babies, those injured by a drugged driver, families of adolescent users, employers and public hospitals that pay for treatment of drug babies and others. The principles of “market liability” or “market-share liability” in existing case law allow civil recovery from manufacturers of hazardous materials for injury caused by those materials that affect health, even if the source of the particular product that caused injury cannot be identified. The cases involving the pharmaceutical DES are examples. The DDLA is a legislatively created form of “market liability” to cause illegal drug dealers to pay damages for the injuries caused by their illegal drugs.

The Act permits parents of children in drug treatment, those injured by drugged drivers, state and county public agencies that pay for drug treatment and/or illegal drug related medical care, hospitals caring for drug babies, insurers, employers and others who are injured because of illegal drugs to recover in a civil action any assets in the hands of drug dealers who have distributed drugs in their communities.

Existing federal and state drug forfeiture laws require that the money seized from convicted drug dealers be returned to them unless it is directly connected to their drug crimes. In contrast, a dealer’s assets, income and future inheritance or other income are subject to payment to the plaintiff who successfully brings a lawsuit under the Drug Dealer Liability Act. As with any other civil tort liability, those assets do not have to be forfeitable in order for them to be recovered by a successful plaintiff.

The Drug Dealer Liability Act is the first law of its kind to hold dealers who intentionally distribute illegal drugs liable for the injury they cause. It has received national attention on the Larry King Live television program, CNN and the Wall Street Journal. The Act promises a new avenue for those who have suffered because of the sale of illegal drugs in their communities who just “don’t want to take it anymore!”