On April 28, 2009, a Skagit County jury awarded $5.5 million dollars to the victim of a drunk driver against the drunk driver, the Washington State Patrol, and a local probation department. This verdict represents the largest in the county’s history.
Hailey French was injured in a head-on collision with a drunk driver who had been released from a prior drunk driving arrest by a state trooper less than two hours before the accident. Instead of booking the drunk driver into jail or impounding her car, the trooper drove her home, gave her back her keys, and told her not to drive again "until she sobered up." Instead, the drunk driver called a taxi, returned to her car, got back on the road, and crossed the center line, hitting Hailey French head-on.
Hailey was airlifted to Harborview Hospital suffering life-threatening injuries including a collapsed lung, a fractured and dislocated hip, a fractured right femur and knee, a crushed right foot, and a left wrist fracture.
Since the drunk driver herself had only $25,000 in insurance policy limits, which would not be near enough to cover Hailey’s massive medical bills, attorney Dean Brett was forced to find other sources of liability coverage through the Washington State Patrol and the Whatcom County District Court Probation Department.
The claim against the Whatcom County District Court Probation Department arose from the fact that the drunk driver had been placed on deferred prosecution eight months before the crash, and was under a court order to drive only a car equipped with an alcohol interlock device, 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.
Dean Brett, of the Brett Murphy Skagit County office, was able to establish that the State Patrol trooper had a duty to exercise reasonable care to control the drunk driver, to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to others from her dangerous behaviors. The standard of care for the state trooper was then established through the testimony of the retired Bellevue Chief of Police, the Whatcom County Sheriff, and two other officers who participated in the initial stop, who testified that the trooper unreasonably failed to prevent the drunk driver from having access to her vehicle. While law enforcement officers have wide discretion, in this situation they must separate 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 is sober.
Hailey’s extensive damages were established through the testimony of Dr. Stephen Benirschke, who testified that he only began to see such devastating lower extremity injuries after the advent of the air bag because prior to that individuals involved in such head-on collisions did not survive. Rather than call the two dozen doctors who treated Hailey French through her 13 surgeries, attorney Dean Brett relied upon a summary of treatment and prognosis produced by Dr. Michael Vondette, the physical medicine doctor who follows all of the total hip replacement patients at Vancouver's Holy Family Hospital. Dr. Ted Becker estimated that Hailey French suffered a 35% loss of whole body function under the AMA Guidelines to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.
The jury also heard conflicting testimony over the appropriate way to estimate the present value of lost future earnings and future medical expenses. Dean Brett called a retired professor at the University of Washington, who testified the appropriate net discount rate to calculate present value at one percent, a standard presentation. Defendants called a Bellevue CPA and frequent defense forensic economist who suggested that the Plaintiff could invest her recovery in a combination of treasury bills, AAA corporate bonds, and the S&P 500 stock index in order to receive a return, over expected future inflation, of 7.22 percent, thus reducing the present value of total future damages to an approximate $500,000. Through aggressive cross-examination, Dean Brett was able to demonstrate that all of the historical data relied upon by the forensic economist failed to account for the 2008 market meltdown.
The $5.5 million dollar verdict is the largest jury verdict ever recovered in Skagit County. Plaintiff was represented by Dean Brett, Bill Coats, and Rand Jack of Brett Murphy, and Gene Moses of the Law Office of Gene Moses. The Washington State Patrol was ably represented by Paul Triesch and Matt Daheim of the Washington State Attorney General's Office. Whatcom County was ably represented by Mike Patterson, Amy DeLisa, and Daniel Crowner of Patterson, Buchanan, Fobes, Leitch & Kalzer, as well as by Whatcom County's Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Randy Watts. The case is French v. Parker, State of Washington, and Whatcom County, Skagit County Cause No. 08-2-00530-8.
According to the May 10, 2009 Bellingham Herald, the Bellingham Police Department implemented a new policy that requires officers to book all DUI arrests into the Whatcom County Jail. Deputy Chief David Doll said the policy had been discussed for a number of years, and French's lawsuit was one of several factors that played a role in implementing it. "It's a public safety issue," Doll said. "It's our opportunity to make sure a drunk driver doesn't get back behind the wheel and drive." The Blaine Police Department is reviewing its policy on DUI arrests in light of the verdict in French's lawsuit, Chief Mike Haslip said. "These policy changes will save others from the types of injuries suffered by Hailey French."
Call the attorneys at Brett Murphy - Washington's Injury Lawyers today at 800-925-1875, or contact us via our online form.