One Man’s Acid Reflux Leads To Dismissal of DWI Charges

April 13th, 2013


A man from Ontario, Canada recently beat a drunk driving charge with the help of his acid reflux condition. The man, Phillip Coffey, was stopped back in 2010 as part of a drunk driving enforcement campaign. Two separate breath tests were conducted and Coffey was found to have close to twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. The problem was that Coffey was also suffering from acid reflux, a condition that can dramatically impact the results of an alcohol breath test.

When he was pulled over, Coffey admitted that he had had consumed approximately three glasses of wine over a three hour period while at a friend’s wedding. He and his wife had split a bottle of wine, with his wife only having one glass. Coffey also ate a very large meal consisting of a salad, pasta, beef and dessert while at the wedding, a meal that exacerbated his health condition. Normally Coffey says he takes the acid reflux medication Nexium, but did not take a pill at any point that day.

At trial, Coffey’s doctor testified that Coffey did indeed suffer from severe acid reflux, which means that stomach acid occasionally regurgitates into a person’s mouth. Another expert explained how that if Coffey had only finished his last glass as he was leaving the wedding, there would still have been enough unabsorbed alcohol sitting inside his stomach that it could have been pushed up into his mouth as a result of the reflux, explaining his unusually high BAC reading.

The expert went on to explain how, given Coffey’s height and weight, the amount of alcohol he consumed should have only been 0.66, under the legal limit. The presiding judge decided the evidence presented was credible and ultimately dismissed the charge against Coffey.
Though many people may not realize it, those that suffer from acid reflux, severe heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, can occasionally receive inaccurate and overly high readings during a breath alcohol test. Acid reflux and GERD work by causing whatever is in a person’s stomach to rise out of the stomach and into the person’s mouth. Normally this is stomach acid, but it can also include alcohol vapors.

In cases where a person consumes alcohol while suffering from an episode of reflux, that reflux can push stomach acid and alcohol or alcohol vapors up out of the stomach and into the mouth, creating dramatically higher BAC readings in breathalyzer devices. This presence of alcohol in the mouth can cause significantly higher alcohol readings than the person’s true BAC. In some cases, severe acid reflux has been shown to raise a person’s BAC from 0.05 to 0.20, four times the real number.

It’s also important to note that problems caused by acid reflux are not only seen in those people with chronic conditions such as GERD. Almost anyone who occasionally suffers from the condition could have their results skewed if they consumed a large, greasy or spicy meal that may have induced an episode of heartburn. Those who take a breath test during such a time might face BAC results that are inaccurate and should discuss the matter with an experienced Minnesota DWI attorney who can help walk you through your options.

Source: “Phillip Coffey’s Acid Reflux Beats Drunk Driving Charge,” published at

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