BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — It's a popular myth.
Many people believe victims of DUI crashes get rich in court.
This is a just myth, however, and most DUI victims end up flat broke.
A combination of old insurance laws, minimal enforcement of those law, and rising costs of medical care has created a new normal where DUI crash victims who live end up smothered in debt. In cases of death, victims' families are sometimes left with nothing.
Sept. 12, 2014, started off as a great day for Ashley Hampton. She was getting ready for her first day at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital.
It was the next step towards her dream.
"They were going to pay for my schooling to become an RN," Hampton said.
But the day that started with so much promise ended in disaster.
"First day we we're moving, first day of my new job, first day of the car payment, and I never made it," she said.
Hampton did make it to the hospital, but as a patient. On her way to work a drunk driver hit her, causing Hampton's car to roll twice, putting her in a coma.
"It took me four days to get off the ventilator," Hampton said.
Waking up was just the first step in her recovery. A broken wrist, broken leg, broken back, broken hip, and crushed foot kept her bed-ridden for four months.
The medical bills kept piling up for Hampton. The drunk driver died in the crash and had no insurance. Before she knew it, Ashley was on the hook for more than $400,000.
"I just open it and forget about it, because you can't, I can't pay it," she said.
To find out how often victims are not only hurt by the crime, but then suffer the financial burden too, Eyewitness News sat down with personal injury lawyer Matt Clark.
"Over 16 years now I've represented countless DUI victims," Clark said. "Defendants in drunk driving cases often times have no insurance or far too little insurance to cover an injury or god forbid a death."
According to Clark there's two major issues at play. The first is because insurance companies and the DMV don't communicate, it's too easy to drive without insurance. The other issue is the minimum coverage rates in California barely cover an ambulance ride to the hospital.
"California has some of the lowest minimum requirements in the country. They need to be raised." Clark said. "You know $15,000 of coverage covers nothing. It literally covers nothing."
There is something you can do now to protect yourself. Get or increase your uninsured/under-insured-driver coverage on your policy. The $100,000 of coverage will cost you about $40 a month, but it will cover your bills if the driver who hits you only has minimum coverage or no insurance at all.
Now physically unable to perform her dream job and struggling with PTSD, for Hampton, it's a lesson learned too late.
However, she's happy to be alive and is hopeful others can learn from her tragedy.
"The freaking out and all the bills that I have to pay, I wouldn't want anyone to go through that when it's 100 percent preventable," she said.