An evening of drinking led to a fatality in the early morning of Mother’s Day. A drunk Clinton Township, MI man left a bar and got behind the wheel of his Eldorado at the same time another man left the same bar on foot. The drunk driver struck the pedestrian; no surprise there. But, he also fled the scene and left the severely injured man lying in a ditch. He was later found by police, unconscious, but alive; he had been laying there in agony for hours. He was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late; he died an hour later.
I doubt the drunk hit the pedestrian on purpose; alcohol abuse had two tragic outcomes on this fateful evening, an impaired decision to drive and an impaired decision to flee. The two, in combination, cost a man his life. The next act of this dangerous and defective ‘semi-human’ was to attempt to cover-up his crimes; he hid his damaged vehicle at a relative’s home. Finally (probably after he finally sobered up), he contacted an attorney who notified police that his client wished to turn himself in.
Big of him; he has been unwilling to provide details of the incident and faces charges of DWI (Driving While Impaired) causing death, manslaughter with a motor vehicle, and failure to stop at an accident, when at fault, resulting in death. Worse, this is NOT his first DUI conviction. He has had three prior DUI arrests since 1993; what a surprise that one finally resulted in a fatality. He was a ticking time bomb! How did he have a valid driver’s license with three prior DUIs? The criminal justice system dropped the ball here; this man should have had no license and with "strike three" should have been in jail.
His actions that night will forever change the lives of two families. One man faces years in prison; another is dead. Were they fathers, husbands, grandfathers? Certainly, they were someones’ sons. In different ways, each family is stripped of a loved one. Is drinking excessively worth someone’s life? Is it worth ruining your own?
And, what of the bar that let this drunk out with his keys in hand? Did they serve him while intoxicated? Did they pay attention to his condition or were they just looking for him to cash out? Did anyone offer him a ride? There may be dram shop liability here.
Death of a family member due to the negligence of another is devastating. There can be extensive emotional and financial burdens, especially if the victim is the bread winner. The family of the deceased man will likely explore wrongful death litigation. Compensation is appropriate for loss of earnings, pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and loss of companionship. If the perpetrator was visibly and clearly intoxicated when he left the bar, a dram shop action, naming the bar as negligent, is also appropriate.
Lawsuits of this kind act as a deterrent to this type of outrageous conduct; instead of limiting access to the courts via tort reform as the non-sensical corporate crowd seeks, legislators should improve citizen access to the courts and permit punitive damages in cases like this. Lawsuit Financial, the pro-justice lawsuit funding company, believes that victims should have their day and their say in court. It is time to stop coddling drunk drivers, defective product manufacturers, bad doctors, and other perpetrators of misconduct. It is time for our citizens to take back our legal system.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.