Friday, August 23, 2019, was a climactic day in the five-year-long case of a Tallahassee hit-and-run accident. A jury awarded damages totaling $30.8 million to the victim, a pedestrian who’d survived with profound brain damage. In addition to the amount of the award, the case and verdict are instructive with regard to dram shop liability. The defendants were the owners of two bars. The driver had been drinking in one, the victim (plaintiff) in the other. The liability issue was complex enough to have previously deadlocked a jury and result in a mistrial. Beyond the legalities, Faircloth v. Cantina 101, et al. is a stark reminder of the potentially tragic results of a drinking and driving accident.
THE ACCIDENT AND INJURY
One night in November 2014, a vehicle driven by a 20-year-old man collided with Jacquelyn Faircloth, 20, a pedestrian crossing the street. The driver, Devon Dwyer, fled the scene in his vehicle. The injuries Ms. Faircloth sustained were grave. She is permanently disabled. She’s unable to walk or talk. She cannot even feed herself.
Dwyer was at the time an employee of Potbelly’s, a bar near the crash scene. Testimony and receipts showed that he’d had been drinking there for about four hours right before the accident. Bar receipts showed he’d bought 18 beers and six shots of bourbon during that period. While Dwyer contended he’d bought all but four of those servings for friends, he was convicted of DUI. This conviction did not rely on a breathalyzer finding, as Dwyer had fled the scene.
COMPLICATIONS IN A DRINKING AND DRIVING ACCIDENT: NEGLIGENCE?
Ms. Faircloth, the victim and plaintiff, had also been drinking just before the accident, at nearby Cantina 101. Moreover, as noted earlier, both were under the age of 21, the legal minimum for alcohol service in Florida.
The age factor was crucial to the plaintiff’s claim. Plaintiff’s legal team named the owners of the two bars as defendants. Significantly, plaintiff’s counsel focused on the illegality of the Potbelly’s service of alcohol to Dwyer, and also of Cantina 101’s serving Ms. Faircloth. By these lights, neither Dwyer’s nor Ms. Faircloth’s state of intoxication made either liable. Rather, that it was the bar owner’s fault that one or both of these kids were drunk and so contributed to the accident. Not the fault of either or both kids. The bar owners’ defense, of course, sought to paint Ms. Faircloth as responsible. Their expert witness testified she’d recklessly dashed across the street and run into the side of Dwyer’s moving vehicle.
THE VERDICT AND THE AWARD
The complexities in this case, as noted, stumped the first jury to hear the case. Lawyers for the Faircloth family had sought damages of $42 million from the two bar owners. The jury deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial on March 2, 2019.
Five months later, at re-retrial, the jury found for the plaintiff.
No one wants to think about an evening of seemingly innocent socializing ending in such tragedy. The Faircloth case should serve to remind us all that these outcomes are all too possible. In the aftermath, victims of a drunk driving accident need the most experienced and dedicated legal team possible. In Palm Beach County, that’s the car accident law firm Silver & Silver, PA. With offices in Boca Raton and other locations, our initial consultations are always free of charge. Moreover, we never charge fees unless we win monetary damages. The key is to reach out to us as soon as possible after an accident, difficult as that might be. Time is not on a drunk driving accident victim’s side.