Family in fatal Seattle DUI crash by drunk driver is seeking $45 million

I recently saw an article from the Seattle Times that the members of the family that were killed by a repeat drunk driver have filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle alleging negligence and seeking an amount of $45 million. In case you’re not familiar back in the Spring of 2013 a family with a newborn were crossing a street in Seattle. A repeat drunk driver who was required to have an ignition interlock device struck the family killing the grandparents and badly injuring the infant son and his mother.

This incident caused many including Governor Jay Inslee to rethink how the State is dealing with DUIs and in particular repeat offenders. Because of this an overhaul of DUI Laws was recently passed by the State legislature greatly increasing the penalties and consequences for those charged with DUI. Needless to say this incident struck a chord in our community and we are forever changed because it.

Now another wave in our community may occur due to this lawsuit. Hey I get it. If some of my family members were killed and I felt somebody was responsible, what is the best way to get back at them. Through the pocketbook. However this family in my opinion is going after the wrong party. And part of this may be due to it is their only option, but nevertheless I still feel the City of Seattle had nothing to do with this horrible tragedy.

In law school the first thing they teach you in Torts, or civil procedure is when filing a civil lawsuit always go after the deep pockets. Typically in DUI cases that is the insurance company of the defendant. However in this case Im willing to be the defendant did not have any insurance. So the only recourse this family would have would be to go after him. But again it sounds like this guy do not have any money, and is probably going to be in jail for a very long time. So who next?

Well I can see how the family got to the City of Seattle. After all this defendant was under the supervision of the City of Seattle due to a previous drunk driving conviction in Seattle. Additionally he had several pending DUI cases. I believe one was in Seattle, and the other was in Snohomish County. Both courts I believe required an ignition interlock device on any vehicle this guy drove.

At the time of the incident he did not have the ignition interlock device and his alcohol level was almost 3x the legal limit. The problem with this lawsuit is how was the City of Seattle liable for this. Yes he was supposed to be under their supervision, but they can’t keep tabs on the guy 24 hours a day. Additionally when an ignition interlock device gets imposed at an arraignment there is no real way for the Court to monitor that.

If the defendant doesnt have a vehicle or doesnt get it installed then then technically they can’t drive. But how is the City of Seattle supposed to stop this. I guess they can lock him up. But it sounds like he posted bail. It’s unconstitutional I believe to impose a no bail hold on a DUI regardless of the severity of it. I mean people charged with murder get bail as a condition of release.

So unless the family can show the City of Seattle was somehow negligent or there was some proximate cause from their actions that resulted in the horrible tragedy, I just don’t see this lawsuit going anywhere. Maybe it will get settled and the family can be somewhat compensated, although nothing will ever bring back their loved ones. Unfortunately I just don’t think the right party is named.

In addition to that if this lawsuit is allowed to go forward then this opens the door for hundreds and hundreds of other claims from people injured or killed by drunk drivers and the jurisdictions that had their case. It’s a slippery slope to go down this path. Should be interesting to see what happens. Even if the City of Seattle settles with this family, imagine all the other plantiffs attorneys that will now expect similar settlements in DUI cases that involved a victim.

About the author: Matthew Leyba is a DUI Attorney in Seattle. His practice focuses on DUI Defense and other traffic offenses. He is currently rated as a Rising Star by Super Lawyers Magazine, and is ranked a 10 out of 10 by Avvo listing.