Vermont student’s 1985 DUI death leaves positive legacy
MONTPELIER -- A scholarship set up in the memory of a University of Vermont student killed by a drunken driver in 1985 has helped 49 women attend UVM in the last 20 years, and the legal case it generated has played a role in helping ensure bars and liquor stores are more careful about who is sold alcohol, legal experts say.
Jane emily Clymer’s parents, Adam and Ann Clymer, took the proceeds of a $250,000 settlement, other insurance money and donations to help endow the scholarship, now given to junior and senior women at UVM. Ann Clymer, who had been in poor health since suffering a stroke in October, died Sunday in Washington, D.C., at age 75.
This year, there are five students at UVM getting the scholarship named for Jane emily Clymer, who died a day after she was hit by a drunken driver while she was walking with her bike along a highway in rural Chittenden County, UVM officials said.
One of them is 21-year-old Melanie Daly, of Fair Haven, N.J., whose father died her freshman year after being struck by a car while crossing a road.
"I was just so thankful that it enabled me to return to school whereas I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise," said Daly, who’s studying environmental studies and English.
A 1991 state Supreme Court ruling that Clymer’s parents could collect damages from the two bars that served the drunken driver, even though she was an adult, is part of a broad societal change cracking down on drunken driving, the experts say. Previously, such awards were given only to parents who lost minor children.
Adam Clymer, a journalist, said Monday he thinks his daughter’s case "made people who dispense liquor, the authorities, the police and the courts much more sensitive to the issue."
But, he lamented, "I think Vermont still has a problem with drunken driving, as most states do."
The driver in the case had a blood alcohol content of 0.30, then three times the legal limit for driving. He served 30 months in prison.
The Clymers sued.
The Supreme Court decision said the Clymers were eligible to collect punitive damages under the state’s dram shop law, which holds bar owners and employees responsible if they serve a customer too much liquor. A year later, the bars agreed to the $250,000 settlement and agreed to encourage the use of designated drivers and provide training to employees to learn techniques for handling intoxicated drivers.
The Jane emily Clymer Scholarship, which uses a small e for emily, is for junior women in the College of Arts and Sciences who have documented financial need, shown academic promise and demonstrated service to others. The recipients’ scholarships are renewable for their senior years.
Vermont law school professor Philip Meyer said Monday the legal case and the creation of the scholarship was a combination of a liberal state Supreme Court and plaintiffs out to change how people act in the world rather than trying to maximize personal recovery.
"That was kind of neat of the Clymers, rather than trying to max out a recovery, to use it as a means of private social justice," Meyer said. "It’s very interesting, very intelligent and very thoughtful and kind of noble."
St. Johnsbury defense attorney David Sleigh said the Supreme Court decision doesn’t have much day-to-day impact on his practice representing clients in drunken-driving cases but was part of a broader cultural shift against driving under the influence of alcohol. He said that when he started practicing law in 1983 juries would regularly acquit defendants who would now be convicted easily.
"Any time insurance companies have to pay more money they communicate that to the insureds," Sleigh said. "Dram shop coverage is expensive, but you’ve got to have it, so to that extent it made licensed premise owners that much more cognizant of their liability."
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