An Alexandria federal judge yesterday ordered the U.S. government to pay nearly $1 million in damages to the parents of a woman who has been comatose since 1981, when an intoxicated soldier who had been drinking at a military club struck the car in which she was a passenger.
U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams awarded $969,496.79 to the parents of Maura L. Corrigan, whom the judge described as one of "the living dead" since the car accident on Lee Highway in Arlington.
The judge ruled that the government was liable for the past and future medical costs of Corrigan's injuries, but said it would "do no good" to award further damages for the "pain and suffering which is usually the thing that emotionally works people up."
The Corrigan family and the survivors of the other crash victim had sought $11 million.
Maura Corrigan, 38, of Cleveland, was working as an aide to Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) when Army specialist Patrick M. Patterson crashed into the car driven by Corrigan's friend, Michael T. McDonnell, 36.
McDonnell, an engineer and former Peace Corps volunteer from Columbia, Md., was killed. In an out-of-court settlement on March 19, the government agreed to pay McDonnell's eight brothers and sisters a total of $250,000.
The Corrigan case is believed to be the first in Virginia in which an attempt was made to recover damages from an establishment that served alcohol, as well as one of the first in the nation to hold the federal government responsible for consequences of serving alcohol.
"I comb her hair. I talk to her. I keep her informed of everything that is going on in the family," the victim's mother, Virginia Corrigan, tearfully testified in Alexandria yesterday.
Oakar, who attended the hearing, told Williams that she intended to promote Corrigan to administrative assistant. Later, she said of Corrigan: "She was probably the most versatile, talented staff member . . . . This was a devastating loss to the office."
Corrigan is now in a Cleveland nursing home, where neurosurgeon Robert J. White said she has a "tragic prognosis" and will never improve significantly.
"I could not be more sympathetic" to the Corrigan family, Williams said, but he added that it was pointless to award damages for emotional suffering. This case, the judge said, "may really epitomize something that society hasn't responded to -- and that is developing a no-fault system where you get away from the barbaric adversary system."
On the night of the accident, Patterson, then 19, drank at the Army-run disco called Arlington Station Hall after he was already legally intoxicated, court records stated. When Patterson was arrested, his blood alcohol level was .26, court records show, or twice the amount necessary to be considered legally intoxicated. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Arlington and sentenced to one year in jail. According to court records, he served 90 days.
Under Virginia law it is a misdemeanor to sell liquor to persons under 21 or to those who are intoxicated. In the past, military facilities were exempt. But recently, Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. ordered Navy bases to comply with local drinking-age laws.