Our St. Louis car wreck attorneys have written here before about the accident that took the lives of two young women from southern Illinois. Jessica Uhl, 18, and Kelli Uhl, 13, died in a crash caused by a former Illinois State Trooper who was allegedly speeding and distracted. Matt Mitchell was allegedly driving at 126 mph, talking on a cell phone and emailing at the same time when his squad car hit the Uhls’ car. They were killed at the scene, and two others in another vehicle were injured. Mitchell has already pleaded guilty to two counts of reckless homicide, but as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Jan. 19, the young women’s parents, Brian Uhl and Kimberly Schlau, have also won an $8 million judgment from the Illinois Court of Claims.
An attorney for the state of Illinois said it was the largest tort verdict ever handed down by the Illinois Court of Claims, which handles lawsuits against the state. Schlau told the media the award wouldn’t make her family whole, but hoped it would deter similar behavior in the future. She made similar remarks in June, when she spoke to the graduating class at the St. Louis County Police Academy. At the time of the crash, Mitchell was responding to an emergency call, but other police agencies were already on the scene. In addition, he was reportedly talking on the phone to his girlfriend and emailing another trooper moments before the crash. According to the article, there was already a judgment against Mitchell for $1.7 million stemming from a 2003 car crash. He was involved in another single-car accident in 2002, but with no injuries.
As a southern Illinois auto accident lawyer, I am pleased that the Court of Claims made an appropriate award to this family. Mitchell’s behavior was described at trial as “indefensible” by a former director of the Illinois State Police, and reports suggest that it’s true. Distracted driving is becoming a major issue thanks to the rise of mobile phones, helping remind all of us that taking your eyes off the road to email or text is not safe. There’s also some evidence that talking on the phone while driving is dangerous, although this is less accepted. These behaviors are even less acceptable while driving at a high rate of speed, since speeding gives drivers less time to react to sudden changes on the road. Mitchell may have been doing his job when he rushed to answer the emergency call, but there was no reason why he couldn’t have done it with a greater regard for other motorists’ safety.
If you or someone you love was hurt in a serious motorcycle crash, you should speak to Carey, Danis & Lowe as soon as possible. Based in St. Louis and Belleville, Ill., we represent clients who are seriously injured or who lost a loved one because of someone else’s bad decision. Most of the time, that means a driver who negligently failed to pay attention, broke traffic laws or drove under the influence. However, in cases involving negligent government employees, like this one, the local or state government may also get involved. Experts recommend that you talk to an experienced Missouri car crash attorney as soon as possible after this kind of accident, because suing a state often has different requirements and shorter deadlines that can take away your right to sue.
Carey Danis & Lowe offers free, confidential case evaluations, so you can talk to us at no further risk or obligation. To arrange a meeting or learn more about us, contact us through our website or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.