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'Affluenza' teen and family facing multiple civil suits

People nationwide have been outraged by the case of the 16-year-old who received 10 years probation for a drunk driving accident that killed four people and injured nine others in June. That outrage hit home for residents of Orange County when it was reported in the Dallas Star-Telegram and other media sources that the teen's parents would pay $450,000 per year for him to serve his probation in a rehabilitation facility near Newport Beach. As most people know, a psychologist testifying during the trial claimed that the teen suffered from "affluenza" – meaning he felt a "sense of entitlement" and little sense of responsibility.

When the crash occurred, the defendant, who had recently turned 16, was driving a pickup truck owned by his father's company. He did not have a licensed adult driver with him, as required by law. He had reportedly been drinking before he got behind the wheel, and was driving at about 70 mph on a residential street with a 40 mph speed limit. His blood alcohol level was reportedly .24 g/dL. For a minor, "any detectable amount" of alcohol is above the legal limit. He had a total of seven passengers in the cab and bed of the truck.

The teen driver struck a vehicle with a flat tire and the four people who had stopped to help that vehicle's driver. All four died. Nine other people in addition to the driver suffered injuries – some critical.

Although prosecutors said they could not get a harsher sentence for the teen, who pled guilty to four counts of "intoxication manslaughter," victims' families had taken matters into their own hands even before the verdict. Multiple civil lawsuits had been filed against the teen as well as his parents and the metal works company owned by his father.

Among the five families who have filed civil suits are the parents of one of the teen's passengers. His family's attorney says that the 16-year-old, who was looking forward to getting a job to help with the family's finances, is still hospitalized with a "traumatic brain injury," and his medical expenses could exceed $10 million.

Cases like this exemplify the importance of personal injury civil lawsuits. Even if the teen had been sentenced to prison, it would have done nothing to help those impacted by this tragedy cope with financial burdens they face. Only a civil judgment can do that.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "Victims' families in Texas 'affluenza' case file multi-million dollar lawsuits" Carol Christian, Dec. 18, 2013

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