On Jan. 20, 2014, Howell was crossing East 1st Avenue west of Commercial Drive when Leon Machi swerved his pickup truck around eastbound rush hour traffic by going into the clear westbound lane. Machi struck Howell and kept driving, leaving the then-22-year-old lying unconscious in the road with a serious head injury that has affected her life ever since.
The accident dashed Howell’s plans to graduate from her English literature studies at UBC and move into a job in a library.
Machi has a long record of ignoring driving laws, and has also repeatedly denied being the driver in this case. The justice noted that Machi had been prohibited from driving five times. He had three prior convictions for driving while prohibited.
Justice Heather MacNaughton awarded Howell $100,000 in punitive damages in addition to the $275,000 in general damages, $14,000 in lost income, $1,775,000 for loss of future income and special damages of $14,781.77.
Punitive damages awards are meant to directly punish the defendant and reflect the community’s condemnation. The award of this magnitude has never before been awarded in a hit and run case, according to the ruling, and rarely ever in any kind of reckless driving case.
“It sends a very clear message that this type of recklessness on our roads is unacceptable,” Howell’s lawyer John Rice said.
Howell hopes to return to school one day as she works toward becoming “the person I once was”. The most important thing for her “was to hold him accountable for that, to prove that my life is worth value. Nobody deserves to be left behind like that…and I hope that it shows future victims that there is hope.”