On June 8, 2011, Jennifer Rios - a middle school teacher - was traveling home on Lucas Creek Road in Newport News, Virginia like she normally did. Unfortunately, she had no idea that her life was about to be turned upside down.
An intoxicated driver crossed the double yellow line and slammed head-on into Ms. Rios' vehicle. Both vehicles were totaled and Ms. Rios suffered permanent, debilitating physical injuries including anoxic brain damage, multiple broken bones, a collapsed lung, traumatic pancreatitis, respiratory failure, hemorrhagic shock, and internal bleeding. She had to undergo 16 surgeries and could not even walk for three months.
Police who arrived at the scene of the accident stated that the at-fault exhibited signs of intoxication and an empty vodka bottle was found in his back seat. Even two hours after the accident, the at-fault driver had a blood alcohol content level of .09 (above the legal limit of .08).
The injuries she suffered were life-altering and she needed an advocate on her side to ensure she received maximum compensation.
"Our client wanted a trial," said Ed Booth, the attorney who represented Ms. Rios, with the assistance of co-counsel. "She didn't want to settle, and she didn't want to negotiate. She simply wanted her day in court, to have a jury of seven people from her community decide the case. I'm proud to say that our system of civil jury trials worked, and that seven strangers made the fair decision - and the right decision - for our client."
This was a clear liability case. The issue was convincing the jury that an example needed to be made of the reckless at-fault driver who essentially ruined a middle school teacher's life.
"In my closing argument, I talked to the jury about the evidence they heard - especially the evidence of the defendant's intoxication," said Booth. "They listened, and did their duty, awarding substantial punitive damages to punish the drunk driving."
Ed's message at closing was clear - reckless actions have consequences.
The Newport News jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning a verdict of $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. However, the jury's punitive damage award exceeds the $350,000 punitive damages cap that is in place in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is an arbitrary and unfair cap. Members of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association are working to have the cap declared unconstitutional by the Virginia Supreme Court.