Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner client Hailey 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 driving to work.
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 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 woman waited nine minutes, called a cab, went back to her car, got behind the wheel and slammed into our client.
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 McCandlis Brown & Conner 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.
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 (link is external), 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 McCandlis Brown & Conner 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.