A $1.775 million settlement was awarded to the woman whose eight-year-old child was killed by a driver treated at a methadone clinic in Vermont.
Erin Lackey and her daughter, Kayla, were driving together when Stephen Fairchild crossed the centerline of the highway. He struck their vehicle causing such damage that in order for Erin to be removed from her car, rescue workers had to use the jaws of life. Kayla was killed on impact, and Fairchild was also pronounced dead at the scene by first responders.
Lackey filed her wrongful death lawsuit against the methadone clinic that treated Fairchild, Community Health Care Inc., a for-profit institution with several treatment centers.
The case revolved around interpretations of a clinic's duty to monitor and coordinate its patients' care and treatments. Central to the argument that the clinic was responsible for the fatal crash was the fact that Fairchild had several methadone clinic drugs in his system at the time of the collision. The drugs include methadone, Klonopin, and trazodone. Each of these drugs has a sedative effect on the central nervous system, and Klonopin can drastically affect visual perception. Either of these factors poses a danger in the operation of a motor vehicle, and combined they are outright deadly.
The clinic contested the suit, claiming that it was most likely Fairchild's own lack of attention or some mechanical defect that caused the accident. The levels of the drugs in his system, combined with the fact that a previous employer had observed Fairchild's poor performance while on the same drugs, defeated this argument.
Many of the drugs used by methadone clinics are part of newer treatments, the effects of which are not fully documented or understood. This case, which is the largest single judgment or wrongful death settlement against a methadone clinic, is sure to set a benchmark in future matters and cases pertaining to the subject.