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$13M verdict in fatal car accident meant to send a message

A $13 million verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit over the Georgia border in Alabama was intended to send message that driving under the influence can have serious consequences, according to the attorney representing the family of a girl who was killed in 2009 car accident. Even if the defendant never pays the full compensation, "the deterrence factor is the point," the attorney said.

The wrongful death suit was the result of an October 2009 car accident that took the life of a 26-year-old woman who was a graduate student in psychology. She was idling at an intersection when the stoplight turned green. According to news reports, as she entered the intersection, a pickup truck drove against the light and struck her car. The driver was later found to be high on Xanax and methadone at the time of the collision.

The defendant pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter earlier this year. He is currently serving three years in prison, after which he will serve 12 years of probation. On the civil side, the victim's family sued him for negligently causing the accident.

Following the trial, it took the jury just 90 minutes of deliberation to find the defendant guilty. The majority of the $13 million verdict is made up of punitive damages. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish a defendant for his or her conduct and deter the public from committing similar negligent actions in the future. The family's attorney emphasized the deterrence factor following the Nov. 28 verdict.

Source: AL.com, "Madison County jury awards $13 million in fatal car wreck case," Brian Lawson, Dec. 4, 2012

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