Kim Smith had dedicated her 20-plus year career to helping the disabled as a therapist. Now, at 57, she is a patient. She will always be a patient, now that she has been rendered paraplegic and is now a resident of an apartment complex for seniors and the disabled after a drunk driver slammed into her two years ago. It’s been a year since she moved into the complex, following a year of being hospitalized after the crash.
Recently, the man responsible for her injuries was sentenced by a Broward County judge to 12 years in prison. The Sun-Sentinel reported that while the 31-year-old defendant apologized to Smith, saying he is, “infinitely regretful,” Smith doubted his sincerity. She did however take comfort in the fact that he will be off the streets, at least for a time. It’s only a small measure of comfort, though, considering the daily pain she lives with. She calls the wheelchair, “exhausting.” She notes the pain that radiates from her back to her rear. She explained how she had fallen out of it several times just in the last month. She lamented that every system in her body is compromised, and will continue to be for the rest of her life, which is now expected to be much shorter.
She told the court about all the life events she missed due to being hospitalized after the car accident. She wasn’t able to say goodbye to her dying brother. She wasn’t there to help her 91-year-old mother transition into a nursing home. Meanwhile, defendant was a college graduate with honors who had started his own online marketing company. He didn’t fit the mold of most defendants, the judge noted. Yet he had a pattern of abusing substances and then getting behind the wheel, prosecutors allege. They sought 19 years. His defense lawyer sought to go below the minimum mandatory five years. In the end, he received 12 – three in county jail and nine in state prison.
Although this case concluded with defendant being sentenced to prison, it may not be over for those involved. Civil litigation occurs independently of the criminal case, and is just as important for victims of drunk driving accidents to be able to turn the page and face the next chapter. That’s because while the criminal justice system is concerned with penalizing the offender, the civil justice system is concerned with compensating the victim.
Not all drunk driving accident cases will require a lawsuit. There may be some circumstances in which the auto insurance company agrees to pay the full amount of damages upon request. However, that kind of scenario is not common, even in cases where a person has suffered a severe and debilitating injury. That’s why it’s imperative to speak with an experienced DUI injury lawyer about your legal options. It could be that there is more than one defendant who might be liable. For example, the owner of a vehicle (if different from the driver) could be vicariously liable because cars are deemed dangerous instrumentalities. The bar where the driver consumed alcohol prior to the crash could be liable if the driver was underage or known to be an alcoholic.
If you are injured in a South Florida drunk driving accident, our attorneys will help you determine your legal options.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
DUI driver sentenced to 12 years in crash that left woman paralyzed, Oct. 27, 2016, By Erika Pesantes, Sun-Sentinel
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Hollander Law Firm Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Chronicled by CVN, Dec. 14, 2016, Drunk Driving Injury Lawyer Blog