The Syracuse Post Standard reported a strange vehicular assault case yesterday. A Camillus man, Christopher Spack, was killed when an elderly driver, William Levea, 79, of County Route 6, Fulton, deliberately rammed his car repeatedly into Christopher Spack’s pickup truck from behind while they were both driving on Route 370 in Cato. The repeated ramming caused Spack’s vehicle to cross over into the path of an on-coming vehicle. Spack collided with the on-coming car, was ejected from his pickup truck, and pronounced dead at the scene. He had dialed the Onondaga County 911 center minutes before the rear-end ramming started to report that he was being harassed by the car’s driver, whom he did not know. Cayuga County deputy sheriffs stated they did not know why Levea repeatedly drove his car into the rear of Spack’s pickup. Levea was charged yesterday with second degree murder, driving while intoxicated and reckless driving.
The criminal law system will punish Mr. Levea, we hope, with a long prison sentence (but since he is already 79 years old, any sentence he gets will probably not last long enough). But what about poor Mr. Spack’s family? How will they obtain compensation for their loss?
His family has the right to file lawsuit against Mr. Levea for the wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering of Mr. Spack. But unfortunately, they will probably get nothing for their trouble. Why? I’ll bet this Mr. Levea (the 79-year old vehicular assailant) has no assets to go after. People who drive drunk and intentionally ram their car into others almost by definition have “nothing to lose”, and therefore have no assets worth the trouble of going after.
What about automobile insurance? Not likely. Although Mr. Levea’s vehicle is probably insured (the minimum New York State required automobile liability insurance is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident), Mr. Levea’s automobile insurance carrier will almost certainly disclaim (deny) insurance coverage on the grounds that this was not an “accident” but rather an “assault”. Liability insurance covers only accidents (negligence), not intentional harmful acts (assaults). Further, even Mr. Spack’s own insurance won’t help his family get recover; the “supplemental un/underinsured motorist” (SUM) coverage in Mr. Spack’s own policy will only apply if the injuries were the result of an “accident”, not an intentional act or assault.
So where’s the justice for Mr. Spack’s family? Well, if seeing Mr. Levea go to jail is “justice” for them, they will get a measure of it. But getting financial compensation is a long shot. Unfortunately, our civil justice system does not always deliver a just result.