Fleming v. Dionisio – Fatal DUI Wrongful Death Verdict Affirmed

A jury verdict favoring a widow of a motorcyclist killed by a drunk driver has been affirmed. That verdict was for $3.4 million and included both compensatory and punitive damages against the driver, who at the time of the crash was 21-years-old.
Impaired driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel after a three day blur of drinking, consuming drugs, getting little sleep and working 16-hour days at a local restaurant.

He was later sentenced to five years in prison, and the motorcyclist’s widow sued him in civil court. She won, and he appealed on grounds trial court erred in several respects, including:

  • Allowing introduction of evidence of his drug use days prior to the crash;
  • Allowing introduction of evidence as to his post-arrest conduct (including drinking his own urine in a hospital bed in an attempt to destroy evidence);
  • Not striking testimony from plaintiff that she intended to use proceeds from the civil case to establish a charitable scholarship and help her daughter;
  • Barring defendant from providing evidence as to the full extent of his criminal punishment.

But the Connecticut Supreme Court in Fleming v. Dionisio found no error and affirmed.

According to court records of the case, defendant started drinking on the evening of July 3rd of 2009 and continued well into the early morning hours of July 4th. He consumed approximately eight beers as well as a number of shots of hard alcohol. Around 6 a.m., he stopped drinking. Around 9 a.m., he rose and drove 20 minutes to his place of employment, a local restaurant, where he worked until about midnight on July 5th. He then for the next three hours drank another six to eight beers. He has no recollection of the time between 3 a.m. that morning and 7:30 a.m. At 7:30 a.m., he awoke behind the wheel of his father’s vehicle. He’d just crashed. He was driving toward the restaurant where he worked when he crossed the center line and struck the motorcyclist head-on. The motorcyclist was killed.

Defendant was transported by police to a local hospital, where his blood was drawn and tests indicated his blood-alcohol level was 0.09 – above the legal limit. Tests would also later show he had traces of ecstasy and cocaine in his system. He tried to drink his urine in order to destroy evidence, but a nurse stopped him. Later, when hospital tried to discharge him, they found him “difficult to rouse.”

At the civil trial, an expert witness for plaintiff testified defendant was “crashing” or coming down/withdrawing off the drugs at the time of the accident, meaning he was especially prone to extreme fatigue. Although he was not actually impaired by those drugs at the time of the crash, this combined with very little sleep and his heavy consumption of alcohol played a role in the crash, the expert opined.

After plaintiff succeeded in trial, defendant appealed. But the state supreme court determined the trial court properly performed its gatekeeping functions, including allowing limited testimony regarding the “crash phase” that follows illicit drug use and the role that played in this fatal DUI accident.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Fleming v. Dionisio, July 14, 2015, Connecticut Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Dakter v. Cavallino – Truck Driver Duty of Care on the Road, July 13, 2015, Charlotte Crash Lawyer Blog

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