As of the first day of 2023, Tennessee made history by becoming the first state in the nation to make drunk drivers who cause fatalities pay child support to their victims’ surviving minor children. This law is the first of its kind, and other bills of its kind are working their way through legislative chambers across the country. It’s not hyperbole to say that the rest of the nation will be watching us.
The new law, Senate Bill 103, is known as “Ethan, Hailey, and Bentley’s Law.” Per Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD),
The legislation was created by Missouri resident Cecilia Williams and named for her grandson, Bentley, whose parents Lacey Newton and Cordell Shawn Michael Williams and their 4-month-old son, Cordell Shawn Michael Williams II, were killed in an alleged drunk driving crash on April 13, 2021. The Tennessee law, which also honors fallen Chattanooga Police Officer Nicholas Galinger’s children Ethan and Hailey, requires an impaired driver who kills a parent or parents to pay child support for the surviving children until they are 18.
The New York Times (NYT) also noted that the bill passed the Senate unanimously in July 2022. Child support will be determined differently than in a typical family law case, however. The court has the discretion to set a “reasonable” amount by taking into consideration the child’s (or children’s) needs and existing resources, the resources of the surviving parent, and the child’s current standard of living.
The idea for the law was born after Cecilia Williams began looking into consequences for drunk driving and found that, in many states, even those who caused fatal accidents were out of jail in a few years. She told the NYT:
The one thing people value most in this world is their money. There’s some justice there. Families are going to get the compensation that they deserve and should have been able to still have from their parents. We’re all more than willing to raise the children that are left behind, but the problem with that is not everyone is financially stable.
Williams is working with 17 states on this type of legislation, but Tennessee is the first to pass it through both houses.
The deadly toll of drunk driving
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports 32 people die in drunk driving accidents every day, or one person every 45 minutes. And, in 2020, 11,654 Americans lost their lives in drunk driving accidents. As the NHTSA puts it, “these deaths were all preventable.” Here at home in Tennessee, 2019 saw 290 drunk driving fatalities, which made up over 25% of all traffic fatalities. A full 71.6% of alcohol-impaired drivers had a BAC of .15% or more.
Even when a drunk driver does not cause a fatal accident, they can still cause serious injuries to passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians. These catastrophic injuries can include:
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which can cause damage to the brain and lead to symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, and difficulty with coordination.
- Spinal cord injuries, which can lead to paralysis or other mobility issues.
- Broken bones, as a result of the impact of the crash or from being trapped in the vehicle.
- Internal injuries, which can lead to internal bleeding and other life-threatening issues.
- Lacerations and bruises, from broken glass, airbags, and other debris.
- Psychological injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety.
- Burns, from a car fire or road rash.
- Traumatic amputations, when a person loses a limb or extremity as a result of the accident.
- Crush injuries, which can occur when a person is trapped in a vehicle, and can lead to significant damage to the bones, muscles, and organs.
Serious injuries like these often require long-term medical treatment, such as physical therapy, rehabilitation, and surgery, and may have long-term consequences on a person’s life, including permanent disability and chronic pain.
It’s worth mentioning that the consequences of drunk driving are never limited to the driver. As you can see by the passage of Ethan, Hailey, and Bentley’s Law, drunk driving accidents – fatal ones in particular – have a ripple effect on families and communities. We can all take responsibility in preventing drunk driving by choosing not to drive after drinking, or by intervening to prevent a friend or family member from getting behind the wheel while impaired.
If someone you love was injured or killed by a drunk driver, Rocky McElhaney Law Firm has the resources and the experience you need. Our team knows how to hold at-fault drivers accountable for the harm they cause to innocent people, and we will dedicate ourselves to fighting for the compensation to which you’re entitled and the justice you deserve. To schedule a free consultation with an attorney, call our offices today or fill out our contact form. We proudly serve clients in Nashville, Hendersonville, and Clarksville.