An Orangeburg County jury awarded a couple $795,000 from a drunk driver who collided with them in 2016.
The jury, which deliberated for 20 minutes, awarded the couple $95,000 in actual damages and $700,000 in punitive damages.
David Williams, the attorney for Jean and Johnnie Corbett of Bamberg County, said “the jury did a good job of recognizing my clients suffered emotional injury, including the loss of trust in the general motoring public.”
“My clients are wonderful people that spend a lot of their time doing mission work. They are proud to have their name associated with the punitive verdict that will hopefully help stop the drunk driving on South Carolina’s roadways,” Williams said.
Johnnie Corbett was driving his wife, Jean, west on S.C. Highway 210 when a southbound drunk driver, identified as Shakanji Capraiti Elmore, disregarded a stop sign and struck the Corbetts’ vehicle around 10:15 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2016, according to the civil complaint.
The Corbetts’ vehicle left the roadway and overturned in a ditch.
The complaint states that Johnnie Corbett saw his wife bleeding from her body as she was submerged in the ditch’s water.
Johnnie Corbett also saw his wife in “acute physical and emotional distress after the collision,” the complaint states.
On March 7, 2016, Elmore, 28, of 105 Edward Street, St. George, pleaded guilty to first-offense driving under the influence with a blood alcohol concentration of less than .10 and disregarding a stop sign.
Orangeburg Chief Magistrate Rob Clariday sentenced Elmore to 30 days in jail and a $55 fine.
Elmore’s attorney, L. Darby Plexico III, didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail message left for him on Tuesday afternoon.
Plexico stated in court filings that the Corbett’s claim for punitive damages should be dismissed because it violated the “double jeopardy” clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Williams stated that on average, one person dies every 26.5 hours due to DUI-related collisions in South Carolina.
In 2017, one person died an average of every 28 hours due to DUI-related collisions across the Palmetto State, according to the S.C. Department of Public Safety Traffic Collision Fact Book.
In Orangeburg County, 11 people died in 2017 as a result of DUI-related collisions.
As for DUI-related collisions resulting in injuries, not fatalities, there were 593 incidents in Orangeburg County alone from 2013 through 2017.
Williams said the jury sent a clear message, “We do care about drinking and driving in Orangeburg County.”
This story has been updated from its original version.