Watson family suit seeks $100,000

Attorney says wrongful death case against Alex, Smathers sends message

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2007

With both defendants serving prison time for their involvement in the 2005 Brotherhood Bridge accident that killed college student Jody Watson, her family is moving fully into the civil phase of the case.

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Diane Souron, Watson's mother, filed a wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit against David Alex and Stephanie Smathers last May in Juneau Superior Court. The suit came six months after a grand jury indicted Smathers and Alex on manslaughter charges and nearly two years after her daughter's death.

Souron's attorney Mark Choate said the criminal case against Smathers and Alex is only one part of the justice system.

"Punitive damages also send a message," he said. "For a lot of people, prison isn't punishment enough."

Court papers show that, beyond legal expenses and fees, Souron seeks more than $100,000 from the pair for emotional harm and physical damage.

"When you take a life, you take away their chance to earn [money] over their life," Choate said.

Neither criminal case appeared before a jury, but both Alex and Smathers were sentenced to three years in prison on the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide brought about in separate plea bargains.

Smathers' attorney Sheldon Winters filed papers in September seeking a jury trial for the wrongful death suit.

Winters said Tuesday he could not comment on the case without first speaking to his client. He did say no date was set for the trial.

Choate seeks a single trial for both co-defendants.

It remains unclear who, if anyone, represents Alex in the case.

In August, District Attorney Doug Gardner filed a motion opposing a request by Souron to access sealed grand jury testimony for the coming civil trial. Gardner said there was no legal authority to support Souron's request for access to the sealed testimony.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins agreed and later denied Souron's request for the records.

Choate's firm sought the testimony hoping to get as much information about Smathers' and Alex's drug use in connection with the accident.

Additionally Choate has filed federal legal action against SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium for continuing to provide Alex with Oxycodone when they suspected he had an addiction to the medication.

Souron based her legal claims in part on the fact that her daughter "drove at a safe and prudent manner" the day she died, while Alex and Smathers fought with each other as their van approached the Brotherhood Bridge and Alex lost control of the vehicle.

The suit claims Alex was reckless and negligent by driving too fast for conditions, and that both were negligent and reckless in their fighting on the two-lane road.

The suit details a list of injuries Watson suffered during the collision, including a fractured skull, bleeding in the brain, a collapsed lung, a broken knee, broken thigh and broken arm.

Twice during the sentencing phase of the criminal case, Souron told Collins that neither Alex or Smathers called 911 or offered her daughter help at the scene of the accident.

Souron seeks general damages for the pain and suffering Watson experienced before dying as well as her own grief and loss over her daughter's death.

"She has clearly suffered," Choate said.

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