$4.2 Million for Victims of a Drunk Driver: One of the Largest Judgments in San Juan County History
Attorney John Murphy obtained a $4.2 million verdict for two victims of a devastating collision caused when a drunk driver was racing with his drunk friend and plowed at a high-speed head-on into the victims’ vehicle. One of John’s clients suffered severe head injuries and was in a coma; John’s other client needed surgery due to serious internal injuries. The at-fault driver, who had a blood-alcohol level of .11 at the time of the crash and who was driving without insurance due to a prior DUI conviction, was convicted of vehicular assault and was sentenced to 41 months in prison. In the civil suit, John Murphy was able to obtain this multi-million dollar verdict for his clients, one of the largest civil judgments in San Juan County history.
$200,000 for Two Women Injured in Crash Caused by Dangerous Police Pursuit of Drunk Driver
Dean Brett recently completed a challenging case in which two women were seriously injured by a drunk driver who fled from law enforcement, led police on a high-speed chase, and slammed head-on into a vehicle.
A Sheriff’s Deputy had made contact with the defendant because his car was sitting in the road, stopped, with no lights on, in the travel lane. When the driver saw the deputy’s car, he began driving in an erratic manner, and the deputy pulled him over. Once the deputy realized that the defendant was drunk, the deputy began the process to complete a breathalyzer test on the defendant.
Unfortunately, while the deputy was accessing the equipment in his cruiser, the defendant ran to his own car and sped away. The chase that ensued reached speeds of 100 mph. Eventually, the defendant missed a curve and plowed headlong into the car in which one of Dean Brett’s clients was a passenger. Dean’s other client was the passenger of the defendant’s car. The defendant died in the crash.
Our clients received settlements from the defendant’s insurance company. However, the crash was in part caused by the Sheriff’s Deputy who engaged in a dangerous high-speed pursuit with a known drunk driver, even though the deputy already knew the identity of the defendant and should have ended the chase to arrest the driver later. Unfortunately, the deputy did not understand the County’s Pursuit Driving Policy and Procedures, which state that “Deputies will not initiate or continue a pursuit – when the subject is known and could be apprehended by a warrant at a later time.”
After extensive negotiations, attorney Dean Brett settled this case with for $200,000, thus obtaining a settlement that would allow both clients to move forward with their lives after healing from their extensive injuries.
$215,000 for Victim of Golf-Cart Accident Caused by Drunk Driver
Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner attorney David Brown represented a client who was a professional baseball player in the early stages of his career. He was traveling with the team in Washington State, and several teammates went to a local pub after a game. After having a few drinks, the teammates began walking back to their hotel.
During the walk, the group saw an unoccupied golf cart with the keys in the ignition. Poor judgment compelled them to take the golf cart. Our client was the passenger and one of his teammates drove the cart. The cart left the sidewalk and crashed into a fire hydrant, severely fracturing our client’s right ankle. Two surgeries and extensive physical therapy were required for him to heal. His future as a professional baseball player was over.
Attorney David Brown had a real challenge in front of him since the driver’s insurance company denied Liability and Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage of the golf cart. The at-fault driver’s insurance company argued that the policy did not cover injuries sustained in accidents involving golf carts. The fact that those involved had been drinking, and had essentially stolen the golf cart, didn’t help.
Through extensive research and negotiation, David Brown was able to convince the insurance company that the golf cart was indeed eligible for coverage under Kansas State insurance law, and the case was resolved for $215,000.
$5.5 Million for Client Critically Injured in Collision With Drunk Driver
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.