Life in the Fast Lane, Everything, Zero Time (The Affluenza Defense)

The Eagles’ hit, “Life in the Fast Lane,” depicts a life of excess involving drugs, booze, and generally “everything, all the time.”  What the song does not address is the consequences of one’s actions if his or her life in the fast lane comes in contact with innocent pedestrians and ends in death or serious injury.  A recent Texas case suggests that the outcome depends on how wealthy your parents may be.

You may recall the 2013 criminal trial of Ethan Couch, the affluent teen who killed four people and catastrophically injured another while driving drunk (his blood alcohol was reportedly three times the legal limit).  At the criminal trial, Couch’s defense counsel retained an expert witness who testified, in part, that Couch was the victim of “affluenza,” an ailment characterized by being the product of wealthy and privileged parents who never set limits for Couch.  Couch’s counsel disputes that it relied on an affluenza defense, but regardless, Couch was not required to serve any time in prison for his crimes. As you might imagine, there was a media frenzy at the time about the nature of that defense.

At least one civil suit has been filed in connection with the accident.  A teen riding in the back of Couch’s truck at the time of the accident suffered a debilitating, permanent brain injury, and he has apparently incurred at least one million in medical bills.  He filed suit against Couch’s parents.  Couch’s father’s business was also joined in the lawsuit, as Couch was driving a vehicle owned by the business at the time of the accident.  The suit has reportedly settled for over $2 million.

Though tempted, we at here at Abnormal Use decline the opportunity to weigh in more formally on the criminal or civil outcome, except to say that there is something very curious about this affluenza theory.  In Couch’s criminal case, there were few consequences for his crimes, but his defense rested on his parent’s wealth. In the subsequent civil litigation, his parents (and/or their insurance carrier) paid a handsome sum.

Perhaps the expert’s affluenza opinion was a bit of foreshadowing more than anything else?

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