This past week, a tragic and bizarre drunk driving accident story out of Texas captured the nation’s attention. Prosecutors and families of the victims were left stunned after a judge let off a 16-year old boy responsible for the deaths of four people with 10 years of probation.
Ethan Couch of Keller, Texas admitted to the court that he and seven friends had been drinking for hours leading up to the deadly June 15th crash. They were even caught on a surveillance camera stealing two cases of beer from a nearby store.
At around 11:45pm, Couch (the driver) and his friends jumped into a red Ford F350 pickup and were speeding down the road, when he lost control and clipped a broken down SUV. The collision threw the vehicle’s owner and three good Samaritans, who were trying to help, 60 yards in the air. They were killed instantly, authorities reported.
Couch’s red pickup then flew off the road and crashed into a tree. In all, nine people were injured, including passengers Sergio Molina and Soliman Mohmand, who suffered traumatic brain injury and other serious injuries. None of the teens were wearing a seatbelt.
It was revealed soon after the accident that Couch had a blood-alcohol level of 0.24—three times the adult legal limit—and that he had Valium in his system when his truck, which was traveling at 70 mph, triggered the chain reaction of crashes.
Despite these facts, Couch got let off with 10 years probation, even though he was facing a 20-year incarceration sentence for intoxication manslaughter charges, leaving the families of the victims outraged and calling for justice. Couch’s attorneys used the “Richie Rich” defense, saying that he was raised by wealthy parents who failed to discipline him for past reckless behavior, and so he never learned the consequences of his actions—a condition that the psychologist testifying for Couch labeled “affluenza.”
However, while the criminal lawsuits may be drawing to a close, the civil litigation against the teen drunk driver is only just beginning.
Already, a number of wrongful death lawsuits totaling in the tens of million of dollars have been filed against Couch by the surviving families of the victims. On top of that, the Fort Worth sheet metal manufacturing company owned by the teen’s father, Fred Couch, has filed a civil suit because Couch was driving a vehicle owned by their firm.
According to criminal law professor Arnold Loewy, “The harder question is, ‘Were his parents negligent in giving him a car knowing his propensity to drink?”. If such facts are established during the civil trial, Couch’s parents could be “hit up for major damages,” says the professor.
If you were injured in car accident caused by another driver and suspect they may have been driving drunk or impaired, contact an experienced and aggressive attorney to fight for your case.