Bentley’s Law: Navigating Texas H.B. 393 and Drunk Driver’s Responsibility After Parental Deaths

A picture of a drunk driving accident.

It’s Saturday afternoon and a father decides to stay home while his wife and mother-in-law take the two kids out to the park. He would have gone with them, but the nagging responsibility to finish his work presentation before Monday is calling him to the computer. He sits down, coffee in hand, and gets to work.

What seems like minutes to his focused mind turns into hours. It is only when he notices that the sun is starting to set that he realizes his family hasn’t made it home yet. He picks up the phone and calls his wife to make sure they are doing alright. No answer.

Odd, usually his wife is quick to grab the phone when he calls. He tries his mother-in-law, but still no answer. The next thing he knows he is getting a call from emergency personnel. His heart drops and he nearly collapses as the words, “I am so sorry, but there has been a fatal accident.”

A drunk driver, traveling the wrong way on the interstate on-ramp, struck his family’s minivan in a head-on collision. The collision instantly killed his mother-in-law and wife, and the two children were left in critical condition. The drunk driver, who was driving a big rig, easily survived the collision but was taken to the hospital to assess his condition.

Devastated, the father stumbles out of the house, eager to get to the hospital to see his two children. He drives, though he can’t remember the lights, the sound of the radio, or anything else about that night. All he can hear is the mental shattering of his world as he walks through the sliding double doors, and heads to the receptionist.

His wife’s life was stolen. His mother-in-law’s too. His kids’ entire lives are forever altered, their mother and grandmother gone in a single moment. All because one individual decided to get behind the wheel of a vehicle while drunk.

No parent wants to receive that dreaded phone call, but unfortunately, these types of cases are all too common in the State of Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation reports that, on average, three people die each day due to drunk driving accidents. This accounts for nearly 26% of all fatal traffic accidents in the state.

Each victim leaves behind a loved one who, before that terrible moment, could have not imagined their life without them. When this happens to be a child, the reality is all the more devastating.

The Genesis of Bentley’s Law: Tracing the Origins

beer on a wooden bar

September 1, 2023, the Texas State Legislature’s new law, known as Bentley’s Law, or Texas House Bill 393, went into effect. This law require convicted drunk drivers to pay child support if they are responsible for the death of a child’s parent or guardian. It was signed into law on June 2nd, 2023 by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Under this law, the convicted driver, if it is proven that they are responsible for intoxication manslaughter, is required to pay restitution for the victim’s child/children. The offender must continue these payments until the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates high school, whichever occurs later.

What Is Intoxication Manslaughter?

Intoxication manslaughter is a term that describes when an individual accidentally kills someone as a result of committing an intoxication offense, such as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Understanding Texas H.B. 393: Drunk Driving Accountability

With Texas H.B. 393 in effect, the legal landscape concerning children of parents killed in drunk driving accidents has changed. Regardless of whether the child lost one or both parents, the child will receive necessary financial support from the convicted offender. While no amount of money can ever replace the parent/parents that the child has lost, this law helps ensure that they receive financial support during their childhood.

The bill also decreases the likelihood that the child and their single-surviving parent/guardian will fall under the poverty line. This can prevent them from becoming dependent on public assistance programs. Similarly, this stable source of income can alleviate future stress caused by financial uncertainty and hardships. This reduces the overall physical and emotional strain that the child and surviving parent face.

Finally, the law also acts as a discouragement for individuals from choosing to get behind the wheel intoxicated. This can be seen clearly in an interview between News Channel ABC and Pamela Edwards, a member of the Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition, in Brazos Texas. Edwards had lost her son Dillon, a father of two small children, in a drunk driving accident. 

Edwards expressed, “The first case that happens I feel this will set a precedent with it, and the courts will make a statement for people to know that we are not playing around here — you have to make good choices when you decide to go out and drink.”

A horrific accident involving multiple vehicles.

Losing a parent due to the negligent and reckless actions of a drunk driver is mentally and financially taxing on the child and surviving parent, if there is one. Bentley’s Law offers hope for victims and their families during this dark time in their lives. This bill helps ensure that children of victims will be provided for as they grow up, giving them the chance to follow their dreams and live as fulfilling a life as possible.

How Does the Court Determine How Much Money the Offender Will Pay in Child Support?

The court determines how much the offending party will pay per month using several factors. This includes but is not limited to:

  • The financial needs of the child
  • The financial needs of the surviving parent or guardian
  • The financial resources of the offender

The convicted party is required to pay all restitution, regardless of whether the payments were scheduled to begin or be terminated when the defendant is in prison or a correctional facility. If the offender is unable to make payments due to being incarcerated, they will be held responsible for paying all owed restitution on a payment plan starting on the first anniversary of their release date.

A gavel onto of a law book with a set of legal scales on a desk.

Branch & Dhillon, P.C. understands that the victim of a drunk driving accident and their families should not be held responsible for the accident’s aftermath. Instead, the responsibility belongs to the individual who recklessly decided to get behind the wheel of a vehicle while intoxicated. Not only did their decision endanger their own life but also that of every driver and passenger on their road. 

Regardless of the identity of the victim of wrongful death in the drunk driving accident, whether a parent who lost their child or a child who lost their parent, the result uproots the lives of the surviving family members. If you or a loved one is facing this situation, our caring attorneys can help. 

Our car accident attorneys specialize in ensuring that our clients get the maximum compensation they deserve after an accident. We can help minimize the challenges you and your family face after the accident, such as dealing with the insurance companies. We won’t allow them to bully you into accepting a minimal amount of compensation. Contact Branch & Dhillon, P.C. today to schedule a no-obligation consultation.

What To Learn More About Bentley’s Law?

FAQs: Clarifying Common Questions About Bentley’s Law

How Did Bentley’s Law Come Into Existence?

The bill was first introduced in Missouri in 2022 where it initially failed to pass. However, three other states, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas have adopted their own versions of the law. For Texas, Bentley’s Law was signed into the state legislature on June 2nd, 2023, and came into effect on September 1, 2023. 
Since the laws passed, a dozen other states have considered adding some version of the Texas bill into their state legislatures as well. These states include;

– Arizona
– Florida
– Hawaii
– Indiana
– Missouri
– New Jersey
– South Carolina
– South Dakota
– Washington
– West Virginia
– Wisconsin

All of these states have high amounts of fatal drunk driving accidents.

Is Bentley’s Law Only About Child Support in Parental Death Cases?

Bentley’s Law only pertains to individuals who have been convicted of intoxication manslaughter in which the victim of the accident was the parent or guardian of a child/children. The child/children will then receive restitution until they turn to the age of 18 or graduate high school, whichever occurs later.

What Are the Specific Responsibilities Imposed on Drunk Drivers Under Bentley’s Law?

If a drunk driver is convicted of intoxication manslaughter where the victim was the parent or guardian of a child/children, the offender will be expected to pay restitution to the child/children until they turn 18 or graduate high school. 

Child support payments are determined by the financial needs of the child, the financial needs of the living parent/guardian, and the resources available to the offender. If the offender is unable to pay child support due to being incarcerated, a payment plan will be set up to start one year from the date of their release. They will be expected to pay all of the child support payments and continue paying child support until the child turns 18 or graduates.

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