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‘Affluenza’ Teen’s Family Settles With Some Victims

The family of the "affluenza" teen sentenced to probation after a fatal DUI crash has decided to settle lawsuits brought by some of the victims. Ethan Couch's family has agreed to settle with the families of Breanna Mitchell and Hollie and Shelby Boyles -- all three allegedly killed by Couch, then 16, in June, the Dallas Morning News reports. Youth pastor Brian Jennings was also killed in the crash, but a settlement with his family has not yet been reached. 'Affluenza' Family Pays Up Although their deaths are tragedies, in a small way, Couch's "affluenza" is a boon. Wrongful death suits are almost always an option for the families of drunken driving victims, but few of the culprits have the money to properly compensate the plaintiffs. If Couch or his family had been penniless, the victims' families would likely have received nothing, and yet would still have to deal with their losses. You can't get blood from a stone, but the Couches have "blood" to spare. By paying "an undisclosed amount" to the Mitchell and Boyles families, as the Morning News reports, the Couches can close off some of the largest sources of civil liability opened by their son Ethan. Why Settle? Given the fact that Couch had already admitted guilt and was convicted in juvenile court for causing the four deaths, settling really was the Couches' best option. Since criminal convictions require a higher standard of proof than civil charges, Couch's convictions would have been more than adequate proof of the teen's responsibility for the killings. By settling these civil claims out of court, the Couches save their son and their family from having to endure a long public trial -- not to mention a jury of their peers, which isn't likely to adore their "affluenza"-afflicted son. Victims' families -- like the Mitchells and the Boyleses -- can also avoid the pain of reliving their loved ones' deaths through trial via a settlement, with the hope that the settlement funds can help them to move on. Still, there are others who survived the crash, like paralyzed teen Sergio Molina, whose families are still awaiting justice, reports the Morning News. Related Resources: Lawyer says settlements 'close' in claims against Ethan Couch, family (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) 'Affluenza' DWI Teen Spared Jail Again (FindLaw's Blotter) Utah Music Venue Sued Over DUI Death (FindLaw's Injured) Applebee's Settles Family's DWI Crash Lawsuit (FindLaw's Injured)
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1st GM Ignition-Switch Defect Lawsuit Filed

GM is facing a potential class action lawsuit over an ignition switch defect linked to the recall of more than 1.6 million compact cars. The lawsuit was filed in Texas federal court on Friday, alleging that General Motors knew about the dangerous defect in 2004 but failed to fix it -- putting drivers' lives at risk and reducing the resale value of their vehicles, reports Reuters. What does this suit mean for GM? Federal Suit May Become Class Action Daryl and Maria Brandt filed the lawsuit because of safety risks posed by their 2007 Chevy Cobalt, one of the many models recalled by GM over the ignition switch defect. According to Reuters, the couple claims they "have driven their car less than otherwise" fearing an accident caused by the ignition switch issue. The Brandts do not claim that they were injured in an ignition switch-related accident, but they do want compensation for diminished resale value and the loss of use of their vehicle. Their suit is seeking class action certification, so that the Brandts can represent similarly situated individuals across the country who may have been injured by GM's alleged wrongdoing. In order to be certified as a class action, a federal court must find that: It is impractical for each plaintiff to sue on his or her own, There is a common complaint shared between class members, Class representatives (in this case, the Brandts) have the same claims and defenses as others in the class, and The lawyers and representatives will fairly represent the class. Payouts in class action lawsuits can be substantial. You'll recall a class action suit related to Toyota's sudden acceleration issue settled for more than $1 billion. Legal Troubles Mounting for GM This potential class action suit is yet another legal action on GM's plate over this ignition switch defect. Both Congress and the Justice Department are looking into criminal and civil charges against the car manufacturer for allegedly misleading government regulators by not giving notice of the defect. GM car owners will want to check to see if their vehicle is included in the ignition switch recall, and will also want to consider contacting an experienced motor vehicle defect lawyer if they feel they've been injured by their defective vehicles. Related Resources: Lawsuit Filed Against General Motors Over Ignition-Switch Recall Losses (Insurance Journal) GM Recalls 780K Cars After 6 Deaths (FindLaw's Injured) GM Recall Expands to 1.6M Vehicles; 13 Deaths Reported (FindLaw's Common Law) GM Recalling 1.5M Vehicles Over Fire Risk (FindLaw's Injured)
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SXSW Crash Kills 2; Alleged Drunken Driver Arrested

An alleged drunken driving crash at SXSW claimed two lives and injured about two dozen people after a car barreled into a crowd Thursday morning. Austin, Texas, Police Chief Art Acevedo told CNN that an unnamed male suspect is in custody facing two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault by vehicle for plowing into the crowd at the South by Southwest festival. What will prosecutors have to prove in order to convict, and what legal options may be available for victims of the crash? Driver Faces Serious Criminal Charges The driver responsible for killing two and putting at least 23 in the hospital was allegedly intoxicated and fleeing police when he collided with the SXSW crowd. According to CNN, the two persons who were killed in the crash were riding their light motorcycles (read: scooters) when the allegedly drunken driver hit them. Under Texas law, causing the death of a person while committing a felony is first degree murder. Since the unnamed driver is also alleged to have caused the death of the two SXSW attendees, he could potentially face the death penalty. In addition to the threat of capital punishment, the man accused of injuring at least 23 people is facing 23 corresponding aggravated assault charges. Aggravated assault is applied when there are serious bodily injuries, and CNN reports that some of the injured are in critical condition. Even without the two capital murder charges, the allegedly drunken driver could be facing anywhere from 46 to 460 years in prison. Civil Lawsuits Possible The criminal charges facing the driver aren't the only way his victims will find justice -- he can also face lawsuits in civil court. The families and loved ones of the two persons killed in the SXSW crash can certainly file wrongful death charges against the man alleged to have run over the two. The 23 survivors (and any others injured by the crash) can potentially sue the drunken driver for battery, and can hope to collect damages for any medical bills or associated costs stemming from their injuries. These civil suits will likely be put on hold until the suspect's criminal charges have been resolved. If he is convicted for the assaults and murders, then the victims should easily obtain a civil judgment against him. Given the extent of the injuries and damages, however, it is unclear whether the suspected killer will have the money to pay for these judgments. Related Resources: 2 dead after car crashes into SXSW crowd (The Austin American-Statesman) In Car v. Bike Crashes, Why Are Charges So Rare? (FindLaw's Blotter) Mars Heiress Charged in Fatal Crash (FindLaw's Blotter) Dad Gets 90 Years for DUI Crash; 5 Kids Killed (FindLaw's Blotter)
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