Drunk driving remains a pervasive and dangerous issue in South Carolina. Alcohol-impaired driving contributes to a significant number of fatalities and injuries on the roads, a recent study by Forbes named South Carolina as the 7th most dangerous state for drunk driving. These crashes not only result in loss of life, but also cause severe injuries, leaving victims and their families grappling with physical, emotional, and financial hardships.
When a 52-year-old veteran of the US Coast Guard, found himself dealing with the aftermath of a collision caused by the recklessness of a drunk driver, he knew he needed a strong advocate on his side. That’s why he contacted Joye Law Firm to represent him. Attorney William Asche took on the case without hesitation, and immediately got to work. Case Manager, Morgan Mintz, and Litigation Paralegal, Beth Stevenson joined in to work alongside Asche on this case.
A Drunk Driver Causes Collateral Damage
Days before Christmas 2020 around 10:55 PM, our client was driving home from the grocery store on Miles Jamison Road in Summerville, when he was struck by a drunk driver who blew through a stop sign at the intersection of Arbor Road. The collision caused significant damage to the vehicle the victim was driving, forcing it off the road almost hitting a nearby apartment building.
At the scene of the wreck, our client was treated by Dorchester County EMTs who immediately noted his neck and back injuries. Later, he soon sought medical attention at Trident Medical Center ER in Summerville, where he was diagnosed with various injuries, including sprains to his left knee, lumbar and left shoulder.
Asche and Stevenson played a crucial role in helping our client navigate the medical treatment process. Being a Veteran, he faced difficulties accessing care at the VA. Our team stepped up to ensure he received all the necessary medical attention he needed for a full recovery.
After beginning treatment with a local orthopedic doctor, an MRI discovered extensive injuries, including meniscus damage in his left knee, disc bulges in both the cervical and lumbar spine, joint damage in his left shoulder, and labrum damage in his right hip. His medical team began a prompt course of treatment that included intensive physical therapy and medications for muscle spasms and pain. Because of the extent of his injuries, our client also had to endure multiple epidural steroid injections. He also faces life-long physical therapy, as the injuries he sustained were permanent. At the time of the initial demand, his medical bills totaled over $47,000.
The team at Joye Law Firm immediately began working to establish liability and secure the compensation our client deserved. Asche encountered challenges along the way, including the need to prove the defendant’s DUI charge, which had not been finalized when he first began to work on the case. Asche filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the file from the Summerville Police Department. The Summerville Police Department provided the complete file including body cam and dash cam footage. This evidence showed the defendant refusing a field sobriety test and his complete lack of remorse and belligerent behavior at the scene.
The defendant ended up being charged with DUI, resisting arrest, and having an open container in a motor vehicle. The defendant plead guilty to the DUI charge, demonstrating that he was 100% liable for the collision and our client’s resulting injuries.
The liability insurance carrier recognized their obligation early on and promptly tendered the full policy amount for liability and property damage coverage, which totaled $40,000. However, Asche knew that his client deserved more and continued to seek additional compensation.
Underinsured Policy Claim
The client had an underinsured motorist (UIM) policy with coverage of $300,000 for bodily injury and property damage. This aspect of the case presented a unique challenge, as the UIM policy had an exclusion for rental vehicles, and the client was driving a rental car at the time of the accident. Asche knew a relevant case was before the Supreme Court regarding property damage and stacking exclusions. He advised his client to be patient while they waited on the ruling for that case. Asche used the Court’s ruling to carefully hone his messaging on this claim. He negotiated tirelessly with the insurance carrier, ultimately settling for the entire amount available through the victim’s policies. Asche reminded the insurance carriers that this accident only happened because of the reckless behavior of the defendant, therefore, punitive damages in the form of the full UIM policy should be awarded.
Under established South Carolina law, “[P]unitive damages serve at least three important purposes: punishment of the defendant’s reckless, willful, wanton, or malicious conduct; deterrence of similar future conduct by the defendant or others; and compensation for the reckless or willful invasion of the plaintiff’s private rights.” Clark v. Cantrell, 339 S.C. 369, 379, 529 S.E.2d 528, 533 (2000).
“When someone has violated someone else’s rights in a reckless way, they are entitled to be vindicated. In this case, because the defendant knowingly decided to get behind the wheel while impaired, we were able to recover the punitive damages,” explained Asche.
Restoration of Justice Through Punitive Damages
The successful outcome of this case is a testament to Joye Law Firm’s dedication and skill in advocating for our client’s rights. Our client expressed great satisfaction with the resolution of his case. He never expected to be fully compensated for his injuries and pain and suffering.
It’s important to hold those who violate others’ rights accountable for their actions through the availability of punitive damages in such cases. The aim of punitive damages is not only to compensate the victim but also to punish the defendant and deter similar behavior in the future. In this particular case, the defendant’s decision to drive while impaired made our client eligible for punitive damages, which were successfully recovered.
“It is essential for anyone affected by a drunk driving incident to seek legal representation, as punitive damages may be available, but will not be recovered without an experienced attorney,” says Asche.
If you or a loved one has sustained injuries due to a drunk driver, it is crucial to seek counsel from a skilled car accident lawyer. Joye Law Firm serves the entire state of South Carolina and maintains offices in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Summerville, and Clinton to ensure our clients receive exceptional assistance. Our team is accessible 24/7, ready to take your call and offer a free case assessment.