Up until a few years ago, Louisiana law enforcement was only mandated to drug test drivers in the event of a fatal car accident. Now, thanks to the recent passing of Katie Bug’s Law and the subsequent civil trial that resulted in a record breaking amount of damages, law enforcement must conduct drug and alcohol screenings after accidents that result in serious bodily injury too. Below, we explain who Katie Grantham – or “Katie Bug” – is, and we also discuss the specifics of the law that was passed in honor of Katie’s life.
If you or a loved one has suffered a severe injury or wrongful death due to an intoxicated driver, you may have grounds to recover compensation in a civil claim. Call Baton Rouge wrongful death lawyers at 225-343-1111 to schedule a free consultation.
Katie Grantham’s Story
4 year old Katie Grantham – nicknamed “Katie Bug” by loved ones – suffered catastrophic injuries in a car wreck on November 19, 2017 at the intersection of Benton Road and Kingston Road in North Louisiana. Katie’s mother – Morgan Grantham – also suffered a serious bodily injury in the wreck.
48 year old Shane DeMoss was deemed at fault for the accident. He was driving a pickup truck owned by his employer at the time, Stuart Petroleum Testers, which is an oilfield service company based out of Texas. DeMoss ran a red light at the intersection and hit the Grantham car at nearly 60 miles per hour. Katie was ejected from her booster seat and suffered a severe spinal cord injury. Katie died 7 days later – on November 26, 2017 – at a hospital after her family decided to take her off life support.
Shane DeMoss’ Penalty and Public Knowledge of Drug Abuse
At the time of the car accident, DeMoss was only charged with the failure to stop at a red light, and served 10 days in jail on weekends. Katie’s parents believed that he was intoxicated by either drugs or alcohol at the time of the wreck, and pushed for a vehicular homicide charge.
However, Louisiana State Police did not run an alcohol or drug test on DeMoss because no one had died at the scene, so there was no evidence supporting a higher charge or jail sentence. Additionally, police determined that DeMoss hit the Grantham car at 58 MPH, which was only 3 MPH above the speed limit at the intersection, so they couldn’t charge him with speeding either.
State troopers searched his truck 5 days after the accident and found a baggy of methamphetamine in his lunch box, as well as other pills and alcohol in his truck. Even still, this was not sufficient evidence to charge him with a drug or alcohol-related offense.
Within a few days of the fatal accident, DeMoss refused to undergo a post-accident drug screening and quit his job at Stuart Petroleum Testers. When he quit, he admitted to a supervisor that he had refused drug testing because he knew that he had drugs in his system, according to a KTBS 3 News report. Other key witnesses in the civil lawsuit (which came later) claimed that DeMoss had a clear history of drug abuse. Additionally, DeMoss was fired from his previous job for failing a drug test.
The Grantham family argued that given DeMoss’ known history of drug abuse, Stuart Petroleum should have never allowed him to drive a company truck. Even still, the company claimed they had never suspected that DeMoss had driven under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
What is Katie Bug’s Law?
Katie Bug’s Law (RS 32:681) is a new law passed in 2019 in honor of Katie’s death. In short, the state law mandates expanded drug testing at accident scenes that result in both serious injury and death. The law specifically states:
“The test or tests required pursuant to Subsection A of this Section shall be administered at the direction of a law enforcement officer having reasonable grounds to believe the person to have been operating or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle upon the public highways of this state which is involved in a collision or crash or to have been operating or in physical control of a watercraft on the waterways of this state involved in a collision, crash, or other casualty in which a suspected serious injury or a fatality occurs, in order to determine the presence of any abused substance or controlled dangerous substance.”
Former Louisiana state senator and current attorney, Ryan Gatti, helped the Grantham family turn the proposed bill into a law. Governor John Bel Edwards signed the law at the Bossier Parish Courthouse on July 19, 2019.
Had this law existed at the time of Katie’s death, Shane DeMoss would have undergone drug testing and would have likely been charged with vehicular homicide. Now, every drugged driver in Louisiana who causes serious injury or death in a car accident will be appropriately penalized.
Katie Grantham’s Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Shortly after the fatal car wreck, the surviving family filed a wrongful death action on behalf of Katie Grantham. They sued the pickup truck driver, Shane DeMoss, and his former employer, Stuart Petroleum Testers. In the wrongful death suit, the Grantham family claimed that Stuart Petroleum failed to recognize a number of red flags regarding DeMoss’ known history of drug abuse, and therefore, they should have never allowed him to drive a company truck.
On March 10, 2023, the jury found that Shane DeMoss shared 10% of the fault, while Stuart Petroleum shared 90% of the fault. As a result of this “record breaking verdict,” Katie’s parents were awarded $200 million each, $4 million in punitive damages, and an additional $5 million to Katie’s mother for her crash injuries.
At the conclusion of the civil lawsuit, Morgan Grantham stated in part:
“There were no consequences in the months leading up to our wreck when this driver displayed his reckless, careless, and dangerous decisions. The company simply didn’t care because it didn’t affect their wallet and that’s ultimately what they protect. Our hope in this trial was to bring to light what usually stays in the dark. I pray we have done that. Katie’s death was a collective loss for all of us and my prayer is that this verdict may be a collective gain in helping keep us all safer. Katie didn’t have to die, but she did at the hands of a driver and his employer who empowered him.”
Attorney Ryan Gatti, who helped pass Katie Bug’s Law, stated that this wrongful death suit was the “most significant case in the last 50 years” in the North Louisiana area. He also stated that this new law and wrongful death lawsuit will improve the level of safety on the roads from drugged and drunk drivers.
Call Baton Rouge Wrongful Death Lawyers at the Law Offices of Ossie Brown Today
If you or a loved one has suffered catastrophic injuries or wrongful death due to a drunk or drugged driver, you may have grounds to pursue legal action. Thanks to Katie Bug’s Law and the record breaking civil trial that followed, Louisiana state troopers are now required to drug test drivers in the event of a major car accident. Our top-notch legal team can help ensure that all dangerous drivers undergo a field sobriety test under state law. Not only that, but we can use this evidence to seek compensation during a personal injury or wrongful death case. Call a Baton Rouge wrongful death lawyer at 225-343-1111 to schedule a free consultation today.