A Chippewa County, Wisconsin jury awarded an Eau Claire woman more than $3.1 million Thursday afternoon for her injuries and suffering after being struck by a drunken driver in December 2005.
Debra Mayer, 51, had a punctured lung, fractured rib, two broken teeth, broken left arm, broken left leg and broken left foot after a head-on crash with David M. Bowe on Dec. 11, 2005. Bowe was uninjured.
Bowe, 59, of Jim Falls was sentenced to 18 months in jail for causing the crash. It was his second drunken driving offense.
Mayer filed the lawsuit against Bowe in 2007.
The jury awarded Mayer $750,000 for future medical expenses; $250,000 for past and future loss of earnings; $1.75 million for past and future pain, suffering, disability and disfigurement; $375,000 in punitive damages; and $17,588 for out-of-pocket expenses. The total was $3.14 million.
“We’re happy with the verdict. It’s a fair verdict,” said Madison-based attorney Scott McCarthy, who represented Mayer. “It appropriately compensates her for everything she’s been through.”
McCarthy noted a settlement offer of $900,000 two years ago was rejected.
Bowe’s attorney, Jay Heit of Eau Claire, could not be reached for comment.
Mayer said she is happy the three-day trial is over. “Unfortunately, I still have to live my life with the pain I have,” Mayer said. “But the mental part is over.”
Mayer said it was difficult to relive the crash repeatedly throughout the trial.
“It just leaves me without any type of emotion,” she said. “It’s just been exhausting for me.”
Mayer has several chronic health problems. She walks with a cane, needs a deep tissue massage every other week and has been in physical therapy intermittently since the crash.
She has equipment such as a shower chair and a high-rise toilet that allows her to live at home.
McCarthy said the focus now will be collecting the money. McCarthy contends Bowe has a net worth of $1.5 million; in sworn testimony Bowe claimed a net worth of $900,000.
“We’re going to collect as much as we can,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said he believes one reason the jury awarded such a large settlement is because it saw Mayer is a good person who helped others, and because she had numerous friends and family in court all three days who testified on her behalf.
“She did so much to help other people,” McCarthy said. “And he took that all away from her. It was very difficult for her.”
Another reason for the high settlement figure is the jury wanted to send a message to the community that drinking and driving will not be tolerated, and it has significant consequences, McCarthy said.
Bowe crashed his 1989 Pontiac Grand Am nearly head-on into Mayer’s 1996 Chevrolet Corsica near the intersection of Highway 178 and 125th Avenue in the town of Eagle Point, north of Chippewa Falls, at 5:12 p.m. Dec. 11, 2005.
Bowe admitted he had left West Hill Bar in Chippewa Falls and lost control of his car, causing it to collide with Mayer’s vehicle.
“I was reaching for some peanuts and I had been drinking,” Bowe said in sworn testimony in April 2008. He had a blood alcohol level of 0.16, which is twice the legal limit.
“We had a videotape of Mr. Bowe, and he could hardly stand up,” McCarthy said.
Mayer was going about 45 mph – below the posted speed limit – and needed to be removed from her vehicle.
In the criminal case Bowe pleaded no contest to injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle, operating while under the influence, causing injury while operating a vehicle under the influence, reckless driving, negligent operation and disorderly conduct.
As part of the plea agreement, a felony charge against Bowe was dropped.
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