John Brent, a young, athletically gifted man from Illinois, parlayed a successful college football career at the University of Illinois into a spot on the coveted Dallas Cowboys football team. Brent left after his junior year of college and entered the supplemental draft when he was taken in the 7th round by the Cowboys.
While at the University of Illinois, Brent was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding on a suspended license in 2009 and placed on probation, which he completed in July of 2011. Fast forward to the present. Brent was driving his fellow teammate, Jerry Brown, in the early morning in a Dallas suburb just hours before Brent was to board the team plane to game in Cincinnati against the Bengals yesterday.
According to the facts as collected by the Irving, Texas, police department, Brent was speeding in his Mercedes above the 45 mph zone when his vehicle struck a curb, flipped and came to a rest upside down. Consequently, a small fire ensued which was later put out by the police. Brent dragged Jerry Brown from the vehicle as the police arrived at the scene.
Brent was cooperative with the investigating police, yet he failed a field sobriety test (i.e. walking a straight line, eye gaze test). At that point, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. After Brown died from the injuries in the wreck, the criminal charge against Brent was upgraded to intoxication manslaughter, a second-degree felony in Texas subject to imprisonment from two to 20 years.
At this point, Brent has both a criminal and civil quandary. The criminal sanction and penalty is outlined above. However, since Brown died as a result of Brent's negligence while driving intoxicated, Brown's estate (since he was not married at the time of death) composed of his parent(s) would have a claim against Brent at civil law. If this incident had occurred in Georgia, it is safe to assume that Brown's estate could sue Brent for money damages for wrongful death and punitive damages.
Under the wrongful death statute in Georgia (O.C.G.A. Section 51-4-1), the estate can recover the "full value of life of the decedent without deducting for any of the necessary or personal expenses of the decedent had he lived." In essence, the estate of Brown could recover his lost for his expected lifetime that would take into account his earnings at the time of death and level of education, inflation and estimated or anticipated income increases, among other items, into the calculation. The estate could also recover further items of money damages including funeral expenses, burial expenses, medical bills and loss of companionship and protection.
Under the punitive damage statute in Georgia, Brent would be liable for the assessment of punitive damages in the upcoming civil trial. The same is most likely true for the law in Texas. Most importantly, the amount of punitive damages assessed in cases where the defendant was operating a vehicle under drugs or alcohol is not capped at a certain amount. The significance is that the defendant in the civil trial could be subject to a jury verdict that could be in the seven figures as the amount a jury can award is uncapped.
Georgia law on punitive damages can be found in O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1(c). The pertinent provisions of O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1(c) and O.C.G.A. 51-12-5.1(d)(2) are as follows:
"Punitive damages shall be awarded not as compensation to a Plaintiff, but solely to punish, penalize or deter a Defendant."
"If it is found that punitive damages are to be awarded, the trial shall be immediately be recommenced in order to receive such evidence as is relevant to a decision regarding what amount of damages will be sufficient to deter, penalize, or punish the Defendant in light of the circumstances of the case. It shall then be the duty of the trier of fact to set the amount to be awarded according to subsection (e), (f), or (g) of this Code Section as applicable (emphasis added)."
If you believe that you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol, driver, then you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer immediately.
The Law Offices of Kevin C. Ford have more than 20 years of experience in DUI collision and wrongful death claims throughout Georgia. If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of the negligence of a drunk or negligent driver, then please contact us today, to speak to an attorney right away. As always, the consultation is free, and there is no obligation. Call us at 404-869-6969, or use the online form. We are available to answer all your questions.