A Chattanooga jury on Wednesday ordered a drunk driver to pay a combined award of $9.25 million to a woman he injured in a collision on Mountain View Road in Ooltewah. Attorney Morgan Adams said it was the largest punitive damages verdict against a drunk driver in Tennessee history.
The Hamilton County jury unanimously ordered Kevin Davis to pay $500,000 in compensatory damages and $8.75 million in punitive damages.
Attorney Adams said, "One of the purposes of punitive damages is to 'deter others' from 'similar activity.' The jury of 12 Hamilton County citizens wanted to send the strongest possible message, in the only way that the law allows, that drunk driving will not be tolerated in Tennessee."
The collision occurred on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008. It was two days before Thanksgiving. Attorney Adams said Davis drank half a bottle of Southern Comfort whiskey over a 30-minute period, waited 10 minutes, and then got behind the wheel of his car.
He said Davis had two prior DUIs and had been ordered by a judge to have an interlock device, or a breath analyzer for cars, on his car which would have prevented him from driving while drunk.
The attorney said, "Had he followed the court’s order and had an interlock device on his car, the wreck never would have happened. Instead, Davis was able to drive down Mountain View Road drunk, towards Ooltewah High School. While driving towards the high school, Davis began to pass out from the effects of the alcohol. Rather than pulling into one of the many parking lots he was passing, a driveway, or just pulling off alongside the road, he rolled down his window hoping the cold air would revive him. Shortly thereafter, he passed out completely, drifted into the other lane and slammed head-on into a car driven by an 18 year-old Ooltewah High School honor roll student and cheerleader who was coming home from a high school basketball game.
"After the horrific collision, the Jaws of Life were used to extract the young student from her car. She was placed on a backboard and rushed to Erlanger Hospital where she was found to have no feeling in her legs. Fortunately, the feeling in her legs, and her ability to use her legs, was restored and she was able to leave the hospital. Unfortunately, she continued to have foot problems, which eventually required multiple surgeries and years of physical therapy. She now walks with permanent pain and is no longer able to exercise or participate in those activities that once caused her great joy."
Davis was convicted of his third DUI as a result of this collision.
Attorney Adams said when he was hired to represent the young lady "the only directive given to me by my client was to 'send a message so that other people in Hamilton County, and elsewhere, think twice before they drink and drive, or allow their friends or family to drink and drive.'”
Morgan Adams took the case on that condition and pushed it to trial. Prior to the trial, Davis had not paid any bills for the totaled car, the ambulance, the emergency room, or any of the other medical bills or damages suffered by the young woman.
The jury found Davis negligent and reckless in causing the collision.
Attorney Adams said, "They were asked to send the strongest possible message to Davis, and to every other person in Tennessee, that drinking and driving will not be tolerated. The 12-person unanimous jury carefully deliberated before returning a verdict for $350,000 in past damages, $150,000 for future damages and $8.75 million in punitive damages against Davis. The verdict was intended as a lesson to deter others from drinking and driving, and to remind friends and family members of the need to stop individuals from driving after drinking."
The law offices of Morgan G. Adams concentrates on cases involving tractor-trailer accidents and drunk driving collisions involving catastrophic brain and spinal cord injuries and wrongful death.
Case: Volz v. Davis; Circuit Court for Hamilton County, Tennessee; Docket No. 09-C-890, Div. II. Judgment date June 19, 2012.