Teen Hit By Car at the Beach Gets $5 Million

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A Huntsville teen hit by a drunk driver in Panama City Beach during spring break 2003 was awarded $5.6 million from the car dealership that owned the car.

Casey Whitson, 17, remains seriously injured, unable to communicate or move much at all. He was hit by a Ford Mustang in March 2003 as he and four friends from Grissom High in Huntsville were crossing the road from the beach to their hotel.

The driver, then 22-year-old Kathryn Duggan from Dothan, was driving a car that her boyfriend had borrowed in Dothan.

The settlement represents the maximum that the dealership's insurance would pay. Last month, the courts structured how the money should be invested, and the court must approve all expenditures for Casey's care.

Casey's attorney, Tommy Siniard, said the family had relied on community support for much of the teen's therapy that wasn't covered by insurance. Friends held a golf tournament, a dance and other events that raised several thousand dollars to help with expenses.

Siniard said the driver was convicted of a felony and was given a five-year suspended sentence. She was ordered to speak to groups about the dangers of drunk driving.

Casey's parents, Cindy Christopher and Kim Whitson, are divorced, but they share the care of him. They took as much time off work as possible, but now they have hired someone to watch him during the day while they're at their jobs.

Christopher said, while the settlement is large, every penny will go to her son's care.

"This allows us to pay the uninsured medical bills and to continue with the therapy that will hopefully help him," she said. "We've taken him to a hyperbaric (oxygen) chamber, and we believe that that's what's made him be a little more alert and able to sleep through the night."

Casey, who would have been graduating this year, has friends who still come to see him every day. He can answer questions by blinking his eyes, and his mom is hoping further rehabilitation will lead him to speak one day.

"It's so hard to believe that someone else's mistake has almost taken his life," she said. "Still, I know parents who have lost their children entirely, who would love to be in our shoes."