Five years ago Theresa Johnson of South Berkeley headed off to work at Federal Express, a healthy 30-year-old woman with two jobs and a fiancee.
A drunk driver, speeding 80 mph. on the wrong side of the Market Street plowed his Camaro into her 1996 Mazda 626. The crash left Johnson with a crushed pelvis and punctured lungs. Four surgeries later, Johnson, now separated from her fiancee, can walk short distances with the help of a cane, but doesn’t expect to be able to work again.
“I’m still in a lot of pain,” she said. “I can’t stand for very long. It’s hard for me right now.”
Earlier this year, Alameda County Superior Court Judge William McKinstry awarded Johnson $53 million in damages, one of the largest awards recorded for a drunk driving case and one of the 50 largest awards recorded this year.
Last week, the case was designated a “Case of Note” by VerdictSearch—a legal resource that list major verdicts.
“The court delivered a forceful message—drunk drivers will be held responsible for the destruction they cause,” said Robert Cheasty, the Albany lawyer who represented Johnson.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving State Executive Director Paula Birdsong said, “This verdict should be a wake up call to those who drink and drive.”
But so far Johnson hasn’t seen any of the settlement.
“It’s not money that I’ll ever see,” said Johnson, who lives on disability checks. “I’m in a worse financial situation now than before the crash.”
Cheasty said the driver, Tyrone Hazel, didn’t have insurance for his car making it difficult to collect. Hazel, who is unemployed, is out of jail after serving less than a year on a work furlough program, Cheasty said.
Hazel has appealed the ruling, said Cheasty, who is representing Johnson before the appeals court.
“My goal is to try to get her something from the settlement,” he said.
Johnson said she hoped the verdict would be a warning to other drunk drivers and added she was more focused on overcoming her injuries than collecting the award.
“I keep telling myself, I still have my life,” she said. “It might never be the same again, but I have that.”›