According to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, almost 30 people in the US die every day in motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers. That’s one death every 48 minutes. All of these deaths are tragic, no doubt. But some are downright heartbreaking – and infuriating.
On December 13, 2007, 27-year-old David Hudson of Johnson City, Tennessee, finished up work at a local sandwich shop he co-owned with a friend. He then went shopping for bicycles to give as Christmas presents to underprivileged children. An avid sportsman, he then went for a workout before meeting a friend and his brother for dinner.
After dinner, he met up with other friends at a local nightclub. Just another day in the life, right? Unfortunately, he left the club because he forgot something in his car. It was about 11 PM. He never returned to the club. Instead, as he crossed the street from the parking lot, he was hit by a car driven by 57-year-old David Wilcox.
Hudson was hit at an angle from behind on the back of his right knee. According to Albert J. harp, the attorney who was hired by Hudson’s parents, Wilcox was driving at about 60 MPH. “Hudson sustained non-fatal injuries in the initial impact,” explains Mr. Harb, but because of the impact, his “body was projected up in the air, into the windshield, over the top of the car, and 90 feet down the road.” That’s where he struck the pavement and sustained fatal head injuries.
Hudson died about 45 minutes after arriving at the hospital.
The Drunk Driver
Believe it or not, Wilcox had four prior DUI convictions before hitting Hudson. Later that night, Wilcox underwent blood tests, which showed he had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15 – well above the national legal BAC limit of .08. There’s no question this was a DUI/DWI incident.
On top of that, police investigators said:
- Wilcox’s headlights were off, which is probably why Hudson didn’t see the car and thought it was safe to cross the street
- Wilcox didn’t hit his breaks before the collision, because if he had, the impact area would have been lower on Hudson’s leg
To add insult to injury, almost immediately after the collision, and at all times after it, Wilcox claimed Hudson “walked out in front of him,” and it was Hudson’s negligence, not Wilcox’s drunk driving, that caused Hudson’s death.
Two Juries Don’t Believe Wilcox
At the age of 61, a jury convicted Wilcox of vehicular homicide by reckless conduct in December 2010, even though he could have been charged with a DUI-related crime. Earlier, a judge sentenced Wilcox to five years in prison. Also, his driver’s license is suspended for 10 years, and he must repay Hudson’s parents for the costs of his funeral and burial.
Not long after Hudson’s death, his parents, Larry and Sandy Hudson filed a wrongful death suit against Wilcox to make it clear that their son was not to blame, as Wilcox claimed. According to Mr. Harb, they wanted to send a “clear message to the community that driving under the influence of an intoxicant is not and shall not be tolerated.” They sued for $2 million in punitive damages – damages meant to punish Wilcox and make him an example for others – and $1 million in compensatory damages to pay for items like Hudson’s medical costs.
A jury awarded the Hudsons over $11 million – about $6 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages in November 2011. It only took the jury a few hours to reach a decision and place the blame for Hudson’s death squarely and solely on Wilcox’s shoulders.
A “Hollow” Win?
Like most people, Wilcox simply doesn’t have $11 million in the bank or buried in his backyard. According to him, he doesn’t own any property, has about $100 in the bank, and doesn’t have a job. In legalese, he’s judgment proof– he has a bill to pay but no way to pay it. So, the jury verdict might as well be for $0. The Hudsons probably will never get a dime from Wilcox, leaving some to say they won a hollow or meaningless victory. Even the parents admit the jury’s verdict can’t fill the void left by their son’s death.
But think of it this way. First, for at least the next 18 months (that’s when Wilcox is eligible for parole), the general public is safe from Wilcox and his habitual drunk driving. Second, like most wrongful death lawsuits, the parents’ suit was never about money. It was about clearing their son’s name – mission accomplished there! “The jury found that Wilcox was 100 percent at fault in the accident,” and that Hudson was zero percent at fault, explains Mr. Harb.
Also, the suit was about setting an example so future tragedies are avoided. Mr. Harb explains that the “Hudsons hope and pray that the pursuit of their lawsuit against David Wilcox will prevent someone else from having their child killed by a drunk driver.” Time will only tell if the Hudsons succeeded here, but we can hope against hope with them that someone decides to call a cab or sleep it off before getting behind the wheel while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
By: David Baarlaer
At Maya Murphy, P.C., our experienced team of personal injury attorneys is dedicated to achieving the best results for individuals and their families and loved ones whose daily lives have been disrupted by injury. Our personal injury attorneys assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and throughout Fairfield County. If you have any questions relating to a motor vehicular accident, drunk driving charges, wrongful death claim, or personal injury claim or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact our Westport office by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com