Is being rich an excuse for reckless behavior?

In 2013, this question rocked the legal world after a Texan teenager killed four people in a car crash. At the time of the accident, Ethan Couch had a blood alcohol content three times the legal limit. He was also under the influence of marijuana and Valium. He lost control of his vehicle, slamming into a group gathered on the side of the road to assist a stalled vehicle. One of his own passengers also suffered a traumatic brain injury, and is now paralyzed.

Shockingly, however, he was only issued 720 days in jail, plus ten years of probation. This was thanks to his attorney, who argued that Couch suffered from “affluenza.”

What Is Affluenza?

Affluenza, a combination of “affluence” and “influenza.” It describes the dangerous sense of entitlement that wealthy children  may experience. When children from rich families exhibit reckless behavior, it is allegedly a symptom of their upbringing. Raised with everything they could ever want, wealthy children are used to be able to do what they want. Therefore, they do not understand the consequences of their actions. At least, this is what Ethan Couch’s lawyer argued in his defense.

Affluenza is not a medical or psychological condition. Some psychologist consider it to be similar to narcissistic personality disorder, which can cause people to exhibit a sense of entitlement. However, even narcissistic personality disorder is not always recognized as a legitimate legal defense. In many ways,  affluenza is just a sophisticated way of saying “this person didn’t know any better.”

What do you think? Is affluenza a credible reason for reckless behavior, or a ridiculous excuse?


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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