Civil suits seek millions from 'affluenza' Texas teen's family

FORT WORTH, Texas (REUTERS) - Five of the six civil lawsuits filed against a Texas teen who killed four people driving drunk were combined this week, with plaintiffs seeking millions of dollars from the parents of the youth, whose lawyers argued he was a victim of his family's wealth.

The case has set off an emotional debate, and not just in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas, where the deaths occurred in June 2013, because a psychologist for the teenager said he suffered from "affluenza".

The condition, not recognised by the American Psychiatric Association as a diagnosis, was described as one where a person feels shielded from responsibility by money, having led a life of privilege paid for by parents.

The civil suits were filed on behalf of the four people killed in the crash and three people injured when the youth slammed his pickup truck loaded with his friends into a car that had broken down on a road near Fort Worth.

"(This was) one of the most catastrophic motor vehicle collisions in Tarrant County history. It is miraculous that more people were not killed," one of the plaintiffs said in legal documents obtained on Friday.

Plaintiffs in the cases may be entitled to monetary damages up to US$20 million (S$25.3 million) each, according to one of the lawyers who is a part of the suit.

Lawyers for the youth were not immediately available for comment.

The four killed were Breanna Mitchell, whose car broke down, Hollie and Shelby Boyles, who lived nearby and came out to help, and youth minister Brian Jennings, who stopped to help.

Two people riding in the teen's pickup truck were also severely injured in the crash. One of whom was left paralysed, according to prosecutors.

At the time of the incident, the teenager had a blood alcohol count that was three times the legal limit for an adult, prosecutors said.

In December, juvenile court Judge Jean Boyd sentenced the 16-year-old to 10 years' probation and ordered him to get therapy, a decision that led to a backlash among those who thought the family used its wealth to keep the teen out of jail.

The treatment, costing a reported US$450,000 a year, will be paid for by the teen's family.

Psychologist G. Dick Miller, the expert witness for the defence who said the teen was suffering from "affluenza", later said he regretted his choice of words.

"I wish I had not used that term," he told broadcaster CNN last month. "Everyone seems to have hooked on to it."

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