Fla. Supreme Court rules after 9-year legal battle

Published On: Apr 10 2014 10:43:10 PM EDT
Updated On: Apr 11 2014 12:40:00 AM EDT

VIDEO: In 2005 Thomas Bowen was hit by a drunk driver in Brevard County while changing a tire by the side of a highway. That driver was convicted of DUI manslaughter. Now the state supreme court has ruled that driver's ex-husband is also at fault, because his name was on the title of the car.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

A landmark ruling was made Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court after a 9-year legal battle between the family of a man who was killed by a drunk driver and the owner of that vehicle.

In 2005, Thomas Bowen (pictured, above) was hit and killed by a drunk driver in Brevard County while changing a tire. That driver, Mary Taylor-Christensen, was convicted of DUI manslaughter.

Now the state Supreme Court has ruled that driver's ex-husband is also at fault and should pay damages because his name is on the title of the car.

Taylor-Christensen remains in jail, but a judge has now ruled that the woman's ex-husband, Robert Christensen, is liable.

The victim's widow, Joe Bowen-Downey, has been fighting the legal battle for nine years.

"It was difficult and unbelievable that a jury found him not liable. I grew up in the state of Florida, and if your name is on the title of a car, you're the owner of a car," said Bowen-Downey.

As far as Bowen-Downey's attorneys understood when the process started, the owner of the car, Robert Christensen, is liable for whoever's behind the wheel. The lower court rulings that said otherwise ate away at Bowen-Downey while she said she watched Christensen spend millions to keep his ex-wife out of jail and continue to live an extravagant lifestyle.

"I felt very much like they were above the law," said Bowen-Downey.

"You can't get out of something, like, 'Well, I meant something else.' Like put your name on title and later on say, 'Well, I didn't really mean that, I meant for it to be a gift,'" said Bowen-Downey's attorney, Steve Pajcic.

"If you have a child driving your car, if you have a car that your father is driving and something happens, you can be held responsible no matter how far apart you may be," said attorney Gene Nichols.

Bowen's family was seeking $6 million in damages; $3 million are punitive damages -- those are only against Mary Taylor-Christensen, who caused the death and is still in prison. The other $3 million are civil damages.

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