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Affluenza defense not preventing recovery by families of victims

A deadly accident that occurred in 2013 received national publicity when it popularized the term "affluenza." The word was used during defense testimony in reference to a teenage drunk driver's reported inability to understand, due to his privileged upbringing, the concept that serious car accidents can result from drunk driving. 

Affluenza is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the prosecution argued that the court should not let the family's wealth influence its decision. Courts in California and in other states require a valid defense to mitigate damages or a criminal sentence. In this case, whether due to the teenager's financial worth or other factors, the criminal charges against the 16-year-old resulted in a sentence of 10 years' probation and an order to enter therapy.

When the accident occurred, four people were killed, another was paralyzed and another was seriously injured.  Recently, the teen’s family settled with two of the victims’ families for an undisclosed amount of money. Additional personal injury and wrongful death civil lawsuits are still pending.

The drunk driving accident occurred when the teenager was driving his pickup truck with a blood-alcohol level that was three times the limit allowed for an adult. One person’s car had broken down and two people had come from their home nearby to help. While they were near the disabled vehicle, a youth minister also stopped to help. The teenager then crashed the pickup into the disabled vehicle, killing all four of those people.

 In addition, two passengers in the teenager’s truck suffered serious injury.

While the juvenile court may have been swayed by the affluenza defense, it apparently is not having much influence in the civil trials. Those who actually suffer from mental conditions that are recognized by medical professionals may sometimes be able to prove mitigating circumstances when involved in a car accident. But even those will likely require some form of evidence that they suffer from an illness. 

Anyone who is injured and the survivors of those who are killed in a car accident may consider seeking the advice of an attorney to determine what liability the other driver may have and what compensation may be available.

Source: Reuters.com, “Two families of victims killed by Texas ‘affluenza’ teen reach settlement,” Jana J. Pruet, March 19, 2014

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Law Offices of William W. Green & Associates
505 S. Villa Real
Anaheim, CA 92807

Phone: 714-464-6903
Toll Free: 866-543-7598
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