A DUI driver slams into the back of a busload of kids on the way to school. We hear this case far too often. Unfortunately we heard it here this past week in Mobile County. The Mobile County School bus was packed with 20 middle school children when the defendant slammed into the back of the bus. Accounts varied on the injuries but at least one child was reported as suffering from injuries. Mobile County Public School buses do not have seat belts, except for special needs students.
Daniel Russell DUI Charge after striking school bus
full of middle schoolers. (Photo by MCSO)
The defendant was arrested for DUI and booked into Mobile County Metro Jail. Reports indicated that the defendant was refusing to cooperate with the authorities during the booking intake (not a surprise considering his history-prior resisting arrest charge). And this DUI defendant, like many defendants I prosecuted and judged, is no stranger to the criminal justice system. He has a prior 1997 DUI Conviction for DUI and arrests dating back to 1992 for
Driving While License Suspended
Possession of Marijuana, 2nd Degree
Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
Public Intoxication (GUILTY)
Resisting Arrest (GUILTY)
Receiving Stolen Property, 2nd Degree
Assault, 3rd Degree
According to paperwork submitted by the arresting state trooper, the defendant admitted that he had taken a “Lortab” prior to the crash.
How do the victims of a crime get compensated?
Any victim of a crime is always entitled to file paperwork with the prosecuting authority (whether it be the City of Mobile or the State of Alabama) seeking restitution. Since this crash was in the county and was investigated by a state trooper, the State of Alabama would be the prosecuting authority, so the district attorney would oversee.
MOBILE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S VICTIM SERVICES DIVISION
The Mobile County District Attorney’s office has a victim’s service office and an victim service officer (“VSO”) who can guide you through the process for restitution recovery. Some of the services they offer include are:
Helping victims understand their rights
Referrals (Counseling, Social Services, etc.)
Escorting to Court
Assisting with requests for compensation through the Alabama Crime Victim’s Compensation Commission
Assisting with Victim Impact Statements
However in a case like this, that may involve multiple victims and a defendant with little or no ability or assets to satisfy the restitution ordered for multiple claimants, collection becomes problematic. Unfortunately this is a very common occurrence victims run up against. What should you do next?
CONSULT A CIVIL ATTORNEY WITH CRIMINAL EXPERIENCE IMMEDIATELY
First and foremost you should contact an attorney (the quicker the better) who specializes in personal injury cases, particularly one who has a good working knowledge of criminal law and who has worked in the criminal justice system. Since your personal injury case is intertwined with a criminal case, there will be a criminal investigation with a collection of evidence.
For instance in this DUI bus crash, the state trooper will take photographs, perform field sobriety tests (taking field notes to quantify the defendant’s compromised ability to safely operate a motor vehicle). The trooper will perhaps administer a portable breath test on the scene, capture and secure video (via body camera or in vehicle camera) of the scene and the defendant and witnesses. The trooper will help book and process the defendant (also filmed at Metro Jail) and administer the breath test approved by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences- the Drager Device. He may event interview first responders and witnesses to the crash. He may retrieve Event Data Recorder information-preserving critical crash data (like speed). If a fatality ensues, an autopsy and toxicology report will be done. All of this is valuable evidence to held you prove your case and obtain a fair recovery.
A good personal injury attorney will give you a free consultation and explain how the cases will proceed, and what to expect when you receive a subpoena for the criminal trial. That’s right there are two cases- the criminal prosecution and the civil case for money damages. Both involve the same facts but both involve differing burdens of proof, different law, and quite different legal dynamics. A good attorney can help you navigate both.
WAS THE DRIVER INSURED?
Usually the Accident Report will have this information. However, if it is missing you can always have your attorney check on this. If the driver is insured that’s’ great. However, in many instances the driver will have minimal coverage in Alabama- $25,000 per person, and $50,000 per accident. So what happens if your damages exceed the policy limits of the driver who injured you, or if the driver who injured you had no insurance at all?
DO YOU HAVE UNINSURED/UNDER-INSURED COVERAGE (UM Coverage)
This is the coverage part of your auto policy you probably know the least about, and yet is the most important coverage you own insurance can offer you. STOP RIGHT NOW and check your policy to see if you have UM coverage. If you do not, buy it now. If you have UM coverage, your own insurance will pay for all damages (other than property) reasonably related to the accident. So if the DUI driver who injures you has no insurance coverage, you would make a UM claim under your own auto insurance policy. The same goes for any injuries you suffer above and beyond the policy limits of the DUI driver who injured you.
If you are seriously injured by an uninsured driver, and you are out of work with no income coming in or drastically reduced, uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage is critical to providing that safety net for otherwise crippling medical bills. TALK TO YOUR AGENT NOW and confirm you have it or get it.
One other point, Alabama UM law does allows what we call the stacking of insurance coverage. You are allowed to stack 3 cars on one insurance policy. That means that if you have three vehicles with $25,000 in UM Coverage you can stack them to reach $75,000 in UM coverage if your injuries or the nature of the case warrants it. It should be noted that you can stack an unlimited number of insurance policies if your injuries warrant it.
MEDICAL PAYMENT COVERAGE
Many auto insurance companies offer Medical Payment Coverage (MedPay). This is great for those of you injured in an automobile accident (regardless of who is at fault) and either have no medical insurance to cover medical bills, who have out of pocket expenses (co-pays and procedures/tests either not approved by your healthcare provider or only partially paid by your healthcare provider). Medical payment coverage extends generally to the policyholder, passengers, or a member of the policyholder’s family. This coverage applies if you are riding in another person’s vehicle, using public transportation, or even walking across the street. Here is good explanation of MedPay coverage on State Farm Automobile Insurance Company’s website.
WANTON/PUNITIVE ASPECT OF THE CRIMINAL DEFENDANT WHO HARMS YOU
The attorney you consult will explain to you that juries and judges tend to compensate victims more when they are injured by the reckless or wanton conduct. In the above example of the DUI driver who slammed into the school bus, it appears a good claim may be made for wantonness. The driver was arrested for DUI and had a prior history of DUI conviction. Additionally, a closer look at his probation indicates he was ordered to attend and complete a DUI School. DUI school typically involves multiple classes, with each class lasting several hours of instruction on the dangers DUI.
Plus the defendant’s reckless conduct expose at least 20 people to harm, 20 children. A strong case may be made for wantonness and additional damages beyond just your medical expenses and pain and suffering.
Hope this helps.
About the Author:
Matt Green is a solo practitioner who represents personal injury and victims of criminal wrongdoing. He served as a municipal court judge in the City of Mobile and the City of Saraland for nearly a decade. Before that Matt prosecuted major felonies, traffic homicides (including drunk drivers who injured innocent victims), and violent crimes in the Baldwin County District Attorney’s Office. He teaches trial advocacy to Mobile Police Cadets and speaks to the Mobile County Court Referral Victim Impact Panel. Matt also defends the constitutional rights of his clients. He may be reached at 251.434.8500 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Alabama State Bar, Rules of Professional conduct, Rule 7.2 (e), requires the following language in all attorney communications: No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers.