Every time we help a client recover a multi-million dollar verdict, we hear some people say, “How can you justify millions of dollars for one person’s injury?” We used to say that if you really wanted to understand, you needed to spend two weeks in a jury box listening to all the evidence. But now we have a better reply. The Washington Association for Justice has created a short video about one of our clients. It’s called “Hailey’s Story.” We think you will like it.
Brett Murphy client Hailey French was awarded a $5.5 million jury verdict against a drunk driver, the Washington State Patrol and the Whatcom County District Court Probation Department for their combined negligence in a high-speed head-on collision between the drunk driver and a young woman just trying to drive to work. The Probation Department had failed to follow a Court Order to install an interlock device in the car of the previously convicted drunk driver. The State Patrol officer arrested the drunk driver and then released her while she was still drunk, in what we called a “catch and release” policy.
After the verdict, we’ve heard criticisms about the case results, including:
- What is the justification for so much money being awarded to one person?
- Why should taxpayers have to pay millions since the drunk driver was to blame?
- How could the state trooper know that the drunk would get back in her car and drive, and how could he have stopped it?
At first glance, these criticisms might seem valid. But when you learn more about the circumstances of the car accident, about the mistakes the Probation Department and the State Trooper made, and about the permanent impact this horrific crash has had on Hailey’s life and her future, you might be outraged that she didn’t receive millions more.
Meet Hailey French and learn from her about her experience by watching the video above. You will then understand why a multi-million dollar personal injury verdict is not only appropriate, but will most likely be used primarily to cover Hailey’s medical bills for the rest of her life.
Serious mistakes made by a Washington State Patrol trooper and by the Whatcom County District Court Probation Department directly contributed to Hailey nearly losing her life in the high-speed collision on a dark highway in Whatcom County back in 2007. The nightmare scenario played out like this:
A repeat drunk driver, on probation with the Whatcom County District Court for a prior drunk driving conviction, was arrested by a Washington State Trooper. Instead of putting her in jail or impounding her car, the trooper left her car in a parking lot, gave her a ride home, gave her keys back, told her not to drive again until she sobered up, and left. The drunk waited nine minutes, called a cab, went back to her car, got behind the wheel and slammed into Hailey French.
Hailey was nearly killed. Her injuries included a collapsed lung, a fractured pelvis, a dislocated hip, a fractured right femur and knee, a crushed right foot, and a left wrist fracture, resulting in 13 surgeries, one year in a wheelchair, months of physical therapy, and permanent injuries that prevent Hailey from living a full life. Hailey’s injuries were so severe that one doctor testified that he only began to see such devastating lower extremity injuries after the development of the air bag -- because prior to that, people involved in such head-on collisions did not survive.
The Brett Murphy personal injury attorneys realized immediately that the drunk driver’s $25,000 insurance policy wouldn’t cover even a day’s worth of Hailey’s medical bills. They also realized that the Washington State Patrol trooper and the Whatcom County District Court Probation Department staff were negligent and needed to be included in the suit.
Why was the Washington State Patrol at fault?
The trooper who arrested the drunk driver had a duty to exercise reasonable care to control the drunk driver, to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to others from her dangerous behaviors. Under the law at the time, the officer should have separated the driver from the car in one of four ways:
- by impounding the car;
- by turning the car over to a sober, responsible adult;
- by turning the driver over to a sober, responsible adult;
- or by holding the driver in jail until she was sober.
Why was the Whatcom County District Court Probation Department at fault?
It turns out that the drunk driver, on probation, was ordered to have an alcohol interlock device installed on her vehicle, which would have prevented her from driving drunk in the first place. But the Probation Department had failed to follow-up on the judge's court-ordered requirement. The drunk driver had no such device on her car. Had the Probation Department done what they were required to do, the car accident would not have happened, and Hailey French would never have been put through hell.
What is Hailey’s Law?
The most outrageous aspect of Hailey’s case isn’t necessarily the actions of the drunk driver, but the actions, or inactions, of the law enforcement officers who helped set the stage for this tragedy. Hailey herself decided that changes needed to be made to ensure that no one else was ever the victim of a similar situation. She worked with Washington State legislators to create Hailey’s Law, enacted in July of 2011, which places a mandatory 12-hour impound requirement on any vehicle driven by a person arrested for driving under the influence in Washington State. Effectively, this means that a vehicle driven by a DUI suspect will be towed from the scene of a DUI arrest and then held under impound for a minimum of 12 hours before it can be released.
Hailey French nearly lost her life in a completely preventable car accident. The Brett Murphy personal injury attorneys, knowing that there was only a confirmed $25,000 in available insurance coverage, were willing to take on Hailey’s case, despite the very real risk of not being paid, to help achieve justice for Hailey and to force changes within law enforcement processes and policies that will prevent future tragedies such as this.
If you have been seriously injured in a car accident and need information about your rights and options, contact the personal injury attorneys at Brett Murphy right away. You can reach us by calling 1-800-925-1875 or by completing our convenient contact form. We practice in Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Tacoma, Spokane, Vancouver, Bellingham, and Mt. Vernon, and all across Washington State.