Law Ordering Drunk Drivers Who Kill to Pay Child Support to Victim’s Children Passes in 4 States

A new law known as “Bentley’s Law” was considered in at least 20 different state legislatures across the United States this past year that would require persons convicted of intoxicated vehicular manslaughter to pay child support to the minor children who were deprived of a parent until the latter of when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school.

Under the law, the court determines the amount of the child support that must be paid by the person convicted of manslaughter while drugged or drunk driving. The court considers an number of factors ranging from the financial needs of the victims’ family to the medical and psychological needs of the child. If the child is rendered parentless and a ward of the state, child support must still be paid.

new anti-drunk driving law
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The person convicted also does not get out of paying because they are sent to prison. Upon release, the convicted intoxicated driver is required to pay back child support in addition to any further support owed if the child is not already an adult.

Of the legislatures that considered the new anti-drunk driving law, four enacted the new law. Tennessee was the first state to pass the law in 2022, followed by Kentucky, Maine, and Texas. “This is a huge victory for MADD, for victims, and for Texas,” said drunk driving accident lawyer, Paul H. Cannon of Houston, Texas. “So many irresponsible drunk drivers in Texas are carrying minimum limits insurance policies that simply will not provide for the children who lose a parent. Until now, we have had to hope there was an uninsured motorist claim or Dram Shop liability case for any change of justice for the victim’s children,” said Paul.

Bentley’s law originated in Missouri after Cecilia Williams received a knock on her door and was informed that her grandson, son and daughter-in-law had been killed by a drunk driver. She devised the law as a way to deter drunk drivers from continuing their path of destruction. Missouri was the first state to consider the law but it failed to pass during the Missouri legislative session.

Since its inception, the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been heavily pushing for the passage of the law in multiple state legislatures. According to Heather Smith of the MADD Southeast Texas Affiliate, MADD representatives “were in the state capitol giving testimony and educating representatives and senators about the law.”

It is not uncommon for new laws that are clearly popular like this one to fail in multiple legislatures the first time simply because they are new and the legislature just did not have a change to learn and get up to speed on them. This opens a door for great home that this law could become a sweeping trend in the next legislative sessions for other states.

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