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Dram shop suit settled for $850K

Bill Cresenzo//May 20, 2019

Dram shop suit settled for $850K

Bill Cresenzo//May 20, 2019


The parents of a 20-year-old killed in a drunken driving wreck in North Carolina has confidentiality settled a lawsuit against the bar that served the drunk driver for $850,000, the family’s attorney reports.

Hunt Willis of Martin & Jones in Raleigh reports that his clients’ son was drinking at a bar with a casual acquaintance in December 2017. The two men left together after midnight. Shortly after leaving the bar, which later permanently closed, the driver over-corrected in a curve and ran off the road. The clients’ son was wearing a seatbelt but was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The driver was essentially unharmed,” Willis said. “He walked away from the wreck.”

The driver was charged with felony death by vehicle and is now in prison, Willis said. His clients sued the bar for serving the driver excessive amounts of alcohol, failing to provide alternative transportation, and failing to have any meaningful policy in place to track its customers’ alcohol consumption.

The bar raised a defense of contributory negligence because the victim had also been drinking and knew that the driver had been as well, Willis said.

“Contributory negligence in this case was particularly strong because North Carolina law is not entirely settled on the issue of applying contributory negligence to a drunk passenger when that passenger had some kind of knowledge of how intoxicated the driver was,” Willis said. “The other complication was that the bar is closed now, long after the incident, and is no longer doing business. There was not much of a punitive damage argument to be made because the actual bar defendant doesn’t exist anymore.”

Hunt described the relationship between the young man and his parents as “very close.” The lawsuit settled on April 10, shortly after the deposition of the plaintiffs’ expert, Mark Willingham of Jacksonville, Florida, a national consultant on alcoholic beverage industry practices, Willis said. René Stemple Ellis of Beason & Ellis in Durham mediated the settlement.

Other details about the settlement, including the name of the bar, the names of the defense attorneys, and the location of the wreck, were withheld pursuant to a confidentiality clause.

Follow Bill Cresenzo on Twitter @bcresenzonclw


Amount: $850,000

Injuries alleged: Death

Case name: Confidential

Case number: Confidential

Court: Withheld

Mediator: René Stemple Ellis of Beason & Ellis in Durham

Date of settlement: April 10

Most helpful experts: Dr. Mark Willingham of Jacksonville, Florida (alcoholic beverage industry practices)

Insurance Carrier: Withheld

Attorney for plaintiff: Hunt Willis and Forest Horne of Martin & Jones in Raleigh

Attorney for defendant: Withheld

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