Martin & Jones was retained by the families of two Salvadoran men who were killed by an impaired driver. The two decedents were brothers who worked as laborers in a landscaping business. One was a longtime resident of the United States, with a family here including a son who had been born in the U.S. The other decedent’s family, which included his wife and five children, remained in El Salvador.
The violent head-on collision happened during the early morning hours two days after Christmas, as the workers drove to a job at approximately 5:50 a.m. Both men were killed when a 19-year-old driving a pickup truck allowed that truck to cross the center line at a high rate of speed and crashed head-on into the decedents’ small car. There was little evidence demonstrating that either man survived more than a few minutes after the wreck. Arguably, they were killed instantly. Toxicology results indicated that the defendant driver had alcohol, marijuana, benzodiazepine, and likely synthetic marijuana in his bloodstream at the time that he crashed into the decedent’s vehicle at 5:50 a.m.
Martin & Jones’ investigation revealed that the 19-year-old driver lived with his parents in a large home in a very upscale neighborhood. He was not employed, and he did not own the truck he was driving. Before notifying the defendant of the firm’s involvement, Martin & Jones carefully monitored, downloaded and preserved social media from the driver and his family. This social media revealed that the 19-year-old was unemployed, living with his well-to-do parents, had already totaled another truck before the truck he was driving was given to him, used and may have been manufacturing synthetic marijuana in his home, and that this information was readily apparent to anyone who visited his social media. It was also documented and preserved that his mother was a frequent participant in his social media. Indeed, she had “liked” certain posts by her son which involved drinking parties attended by numerous underage kids which were held on the family property with the apparent knowledge of the parents.
Further investigation revealed that the very nice home and automobiles associated with the home were not owned by the young man’s parents, but instead listed in the name of a trust based in Delaware. The driver’s mother was a beneficiary of that trust. After collecting enough data to solidify a case based upon the “Family Purpose Doctrine,” Martin & Jones filed suit against the young man and his parents. Discovery revealed that there was only $500,000 in liability insurance. However, the family was made aware, through counsel, that the parents were considered responsible for the acts of their son which had resulted in the death of two people who, though not “legal,” were hard-working, tax-paying family men who had never been in trouble with the law and that the firm would pursue assets from the family trust.
Martin & Jones retained experts in pharmacology, accident reconstruction and trusts. Specifically, the former editor of the “gold standard” hornbook on trusts and estates was retained, and the defendant driver’s family was made aware that the assets of the parents were in play. The parents argued that they did not own significant assets, which seemed to be true, and that the type of trust involved was essentially immune from judgments against beneficiaries. While that was also true, the firm’s expert explained and the family was made aware that any distributions from the trust to the mother could be attached going forward, if judgment was obtained, thereby preventing the family from benefitting from the trust assets.
Martin & Jones shared portions of the social media with defense counsel and pressed for depositions, insisting that the defendant driver’s mother, who was the beneficiary of the trust be deposed first. The trust was established and funded by her father, a wealthy out-of-state resident. A videotape deposition of the defendant driver’s mother was noticed, and defense counsel was made aware that the social media would be discussed at length in that video deposition. The cases settled collectively for $2,500,000 shortly before that deposition date, with the $500,000 in insurance coverage being supplemented by $2 million from the family.