April 17, 2001 - Jury Sends $1.1 Million Message On DUI
After a half-day trial, a Palm Beach County jury awarded $1 million in punitive damages to former Hallandale police officer John Lawton. Lawton, who now lives in Largo, suffered neurological damage in the 1995 accident in Hallandale and has severe headaches. He was also awarded more than $129,000 for medical expenses and pain and suffering. Diego Asencio, a West Palm Beach attorney, represented Lawton. Asencio said it was unlikely that Lawton, 68, will ever receive any money from the driver, Dusko Vuksanovic, who had no insurance, did not appear in court, and never responded to the lawsuit.
But Asencio said the point of the lawsuit was to put drivers who drink on alert that a lawsuit and verdict can follow an accident. "If we can stop just one drunk driver, it will be worth it," Asencio said. Richard E. Linn, a former mayor of West Palm Beach, agreed. Linn was the jury foreman and said the case moved swiftly because Vuksanovic didn't show up. The jury was picked in the morning and reached a verdict by noon.
Linn, who was mayor from 1975 to 1976, said the jurors agreed to make a point with the monetary verdict. "Hopefully, this will send a message to other people who drink and drive," Linn said.
Vuksanovic, 41, does not have a listed phone number at his address in Hallandale and could not be reached for comment. He was convicted of DUI causing serious bodily injury for the accident. According to court records, Vuksanovic had a blood-alcohol level of 0.25 percent, which is more than three times the 0.08 percent level at which a driver is presumed legally under state law to be impaired.
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