Acid Reflux DUI Defense Upheld In Ontario Court

Elaine Radford

The acid reflux DUI defense is back in the public eye, as a result of a ruling last week in a court in Ontario, Canada. Judge Douglas Maund of the Ontario Court of Justice listened to two opposing experts give their opinions last week before he ruled to dismiss the charge against accused drunk driver Phillip Coffey.

Coffey was arrested in August 2010 and charged with DUI after a breathalyzer reading suggested that he had more than 0.08 of alcohol in his system, which is Ontario's legal limit.

He admitted that he'd drunk three glasses of white wine at a wedding where he also consumed a heavy meal -- thus aggravating his known case of acid reflux.

The wine was described as sauvignon blanc, admittedly a poor choice for anyone who suffers from acid reflux. Some doctors will tell patients to avoid drinking altogether, but there's a good bit of anecdotal evidence that some booze is worse than others.

A German study suggested that white wine not only increases the chance of an attack of acid reflux, it could also increase the number of times that the acid flowed back upward into the esophagus. Ouch.

That, in a nutshell, is what Phillip Coffey's acid reflux DUI said -- that the white wine stimulated his condition and caused molecules of wine to back up over his esophagus. As a result, his breathalyzer result was much higher than it should have been.

Judge Maund may or may not have agreed, but he admitted that there was enough reasonable doubt to force him to dismiss the drunk-driving case against Coffeey.

Would the argument fly in America? There are apparently a whole lot of attorneys willing to give it a try. However, I don't think I like your chances.

For example, when a North Carolina local politician tried to fight a drunk-driving conviction, Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor Sarah Garner called the acid reflux defense garbage. She said that breathalyzers have safeguards against false readings caused by the very common condition, which is also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

I think Coffey just got lucky, and I sure wouldn't bet my license on his decision to drink three glasses of white wine before driving. What do you think of the acid reflux DUI defense?

[white wine photo by Jeff Kubina via Wikipedia Commons]