Drunk Driver Sentenced For 2015 Fatal Crash

15th Judicial District Judge David Smith sentenced a 25-year-old Lafayette man to twelve years in prison, following a February 2015 drunk driving crash in which he destroyed two vehicles and killed one person.

Police and witnesses state that Bryan Chapman was heavily intoxicated and driving at least 100mph when he smashed into 66-year-old Carol Ann Richard’s vehicle near the intersection of Halifax Drive and Moss Street. The force of the impact propelled Ms. Richard’s burning car into another vehicle, causing it to topple over. Mr. Chapman pleaded guilty in July 2015, and he has remained in the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center since then. At the sentencing hearing, Mr. Chapman’s parents asked for leniency, because they say he is remorseful, has been completely sober since the drunk driving crash, and is a good caregiver to his disabled sister. At the same hearing, witnesses testified through tears about Ms. Richard’s career with the school district and giving spirit. Judge Smith announced that Mr. Chapman must “carry on [that] tradition of giving” after his release from prison, by speaking once a month for twelve months in sobriety court and performing 250 hours of community service at an alcohol counseling center for young people.

The driver of the third vehicle asked that Mr. Chapman reimburse her for her medical bills, and Judge Smith took the matter under advisement.

First Party Liability in Drunk Driving Crashes

To establish guilt in criminal court, prosecutors must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendants were intoxicated. But to establish liability in civil court, plaintiffs must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the tortfeasors (negligent drivers) were impaired. The difference is more than just semantics.

  • Burden of Proof: “Beyond a reasonable doubt” means that the evidence must be so overwhelming that it excludes any reasonable conclusion other than guilt, but “preponderance of the evidence” simply means “more likely than not.”
  • Nature of Proceedings: Strict procedural and evidentiary rules apply in criminal actions, because the defendant’s liberty is at stake, but because only property is at stake in civil actions, the proceedings are a bit more relaxed.
  • Intoxication v. Impairment: Intoxication usually begins at three or four drinks, but impairment begins at one drink, in most cases.

In other words, to win damages in a negligence case, the plaintiff must convince the jury that the tortfeasor had probably been drinking prior to the drunk driving crash.

Damages Available

Louisiana is a tort state, so victims are entitled to compensation for both:

  • Economic damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and property damage, and
  • Noneconomic damages, including pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment in life.

If the tortfeasor had a very high BAC level or otherwise exhibited signs of serious impairment, many juries will award additional punitive damages. To win such damages, the plaintiff must produce clear and convincing evidence that the tortfeasor intentionally disregarded a known risk and acted with reckless indifference towards the safety and property of others. A damages cap may apply in some situations.

Drunk driving crashes cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with T-Claude Devall or another experienced Lake Charles personal injury attorney, contact Hoffoss Devall. We normally do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.