Woman hopes hefty award will deter drunken driving

photo A Circuit Court jury awarded $9.25 million to the victim in a 2008 drunken driving collision. Jessica Volz was driving home from a Ooltewah High School basketball game on Mountain View Road when Kevin Davis hit her car head on. This car was the one she was driving.

A young woman has been awarded $9.25 million after she was injured by a drunk driver -- perhaps the largest drunk-driving damages in Tennessee history, according to a group that tracks verdicts.

On Tuesday, a Hamilton County Circuit Court jury awarded the money to Jessica Volz in a civil lawsuit against Kevin Davis -- $350,000 in past damages, $150,000 in future damages and $8.75 million in punitive damages, court documents show.

The hefty amount could be the largest ever awarded in a Tennessee drunk driving lawsuit, according to the Tennessee Jury Verdict Reporter publication, which has tracked jury verdicts across the state since 2004.

It's unlikely that Davis, who had been notified of the verdict but was not present at the one-day civil trial, has the resources to pay the award, said Volz' attorney, Morgan Adams. But Davis is still obligated to pay whatever he can and even bankruptcy cannot relieve him of the obligation, Adams said.

"I don't think I'll ever get a penny of it and that's OK, I'm all right with that," Volz said in a phone interview Thursday. "I just want people to know that it's not OK to drink and drive."

Davis could not be reached for comment.

Volz and Adams said they hope the verdict will resonate with people and make them step in if a family member, friend or even stranger has been drinking and attempts to drive.

"It's everybody's job. Before the evening starts, there needs to be that one person in charge," Volz said.

According to a news release from Adams: Davis, 29, drank half a bottle of Southern Comfort over a 30-minute period on Nov. 25, 2008, waited 10 minutes, then drove down Mountain View Road.

While driving, Davis passed out, drifted into the oncoming traffic lane and struck Volz' car head on when the then-18-year-old Ooltewah High School student was returning home from a basketball game.

Volz continues to have foot problems after multiple surgeries and years of physical therapy, the release said, and seeking punitive damages was an effort to deter others from similar activity.

Criminal Court records show the incident was Davis' third DUI.

On Oct. 14, 2009, Davis pleaded guilty to vehicular assault in the Volz crash and received a four-year sentence, according to court records.

He has 30 days to file a notice of appeal to the Circuit Court ruling.

Volz, starting with her college speech classes at Chattanooga State Community College and on to her studies at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, has worked as a spokeswoman with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, speaking out against the dangerous practice.

"I want everyone to know if one single life is spared it's worth it," she said.