In what many would call the biggest act of chutzpah of the last decade, a Florida man who pleaded guilty to committing DUI manslaughter in 2007 after police found drugs in his system is now filing a lawsuit against his dead victims for being the real cause of the accident.
David Belniak is apparently having second thoughts about his plea after spending a few years of a 12 year sentence behind bars. Belniak, who never spoke in his own defense during his trial, is being represented by his sister, an attorney, so legal fees are apparently not an issue.
Attorney Debra A. Tuomey, in making her brother's filing, said the Florida Highway Patrol's investigation of the case was a "government sanctioned assassination against one individual." Her suit suggests that the police and prosecutor's office were driven by Belniak's history as a DUI driver and convicted drug dealer rather than the facts of the accident .
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the lawsuit seeks to get the victims' relatives to pay Belniak, now 38, for his "pain and suffering ... mental anguish ... loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life" and the medical bills he got as a result of a crash he pleaded guilty to causing.
"This is ridiculous," Georgette DeFranco, 48, a relative of the victims, told the Times. "You caused it. You accepted guilt. How can I or anybody in this family be responsible for your injuries?"
DeFranco, the Times reported, lost her mother, Linda McWilliams, 66; her sister, Denise Bassi, 50; and her brother-in-law, Gerard Bassi, 51, in the crash. DeFranco's stepfather, Ray McWilliams, was injured but survived, but died last March at age 68 allegedly, in part, due to the after effects of the accident. The Bassi couple lived in Connecticut and were visiting Florida for the holidays.
Authorities said Belniak, at the time of the accident on Christmas day 2007, was driving between 75 and 85 mph when his pickup smashed into the back of McWilliams' Chevrolet Tahoe. The SUV crumpled. Gerard Bassi died at the scene. Denise Bassi died in surgery that day. Linda McWilliams was taken off life support a week later. Authorities said Belniak had alcohol, Xanax and evidence of cocaine in his system.
A record of drugs and bad driving
Belniak had a history of driving infractions, having faced DUI charges twice before, according to the Times. Belniak also served a previous prison term for possessing and trafficking GHB, commonly known as "the date rape drug."
So how could Belniak possibly be charging that the accident was the fault of the victim?
The suit claims McWilliams was in the left turn lane and "because of his sheer negligence" McWilliams abruptly changed lanes, "making it impossible" for Belniak to avoid the collision. The suit also accuses McWilliams of "possibly" being under the influence of medication at the time of the crash.
Tuomey has said that her brother accepted a plea deal on the three counts of DUI manslaughter and other charges because he was facing a possible sentence of life in prison.
Maureen M. Deskins, the Tampa attorney representing the estate of Linda and Ray McWilliams, told the Tampa Bay Times the lawsuit is "gut-wrenching" and that the relatives are "stunned."
Anyone would be, especially given Belniak's history on top of the details of the accident.
This article got me thinking; assuming that what the drunk driver said was absolutely true (the accident was actually caused by the other family, despite the fact that the other guy was drunk) should he be allowed to sue for damages? In other words, does being drunk at the time of the accident negate any damages he might have, even if he's not actually responsible for the accident?