With a historic verdict, a South Carolina jury emphasized the importance of bar and restaurant owners being responsible in their service of alcohol. In a college town filled with bars and party atmosphere, Fayssoux Law Firm attorneys and their co-counsel overcame significant proximate cause issues by winning a $3.85 Million dollar verdict for the victims of a drunk driving accident. In achieving this verdict, the Fayssoux Law Firm attorneys were able to establish that the Defendant bar operated illegally and knowingly served alcohol to an intoxicated patron who caused the tragic accident almost 5 hours after he left the bar. The Fayssoux Law Firm was also successful in obtaining significant settlements of approximately $2 million in additional funds from other bars that had served the same individual that evening and also played a role in the tragedy.
Details of the Case
This is a dram shop case wherein Plaintiffs proved that Defendants violated South Carolina laws relating to the sale and service of alcoholic beverages and that Defendants’ acts and omissions resulted in a tragic automobile accident which occurred mid-morning on New Year’s Day of 2012. The at-fault driver was a young man named Billy Patrick Hutto, who was drinking at The Loose Cockaboose in the early morning hours before the collision.
More specifically, Mr. Hutto went out drinking with friends on New Year’s Eve 2011. He first drank at Jillian’s in the Vista and later went to The Big Ugly which was nearby. Mr. Hutto left the Big Ugly when it closed in the early morning hours of January 1, 2012, and he was grossly intoxicated by that time.
Mr. Hutto arrived at The Loose Cockaboose at approximately 3:30 a.m. It is undisputed that Mr. Hutto was grossly intoxicated when he was admitted to The Loose Cockaboose and that he should not have been allowed in the bar. It is likewise undisputed that, after being admitted, Defendant’s staff recognized Mr. Hutto’s intoxication and admittedly should have escorted him from the bar and arranged transportation. The Plaintiffs proved that The Loose Cockaboose remained opened well past 2:00 a.m. – a clear violation of South Carolina law.
After leaving The Loose Cockaboose around 5:45 a.m., Mr. Hutto “passed out” for a short time at an acquaintance’s home in Columbia before getting in his 2003 Jeep to drive home. Mr. Hutto was severely intoxicated when he got behind the wheel of his car.
At approximately 10:40 a.m., Plaintiffs David Longstreet, Karen Longstreet and their four minor children, Noah, Levi, Micah and Emma, were in their minivan on the way to church in Lexington County, South Carolina. Plaintiff David Longstreet was the driver and his wife, Karen, was occupying the front passenger seat. At the same time, Kenneth Sinchak was driving home in southerly direction on Old Cherokee Road in Lexington, South Carolina. Plaintiff Sinchak and the Longstreet Plaintiffs were stopped for a traffic light in adjacent lanes at the intersection of Old Cherokee and Sunset Boulevard (U.S. Highway 378), preparing to turn left onto eastbound Sunset Boulevard. Upon receiving the green light, both vehicles proceeded lawfully into the intersection.
At the same time, Mr. Hutto was operating his vehicle in a westerly direction on Sunset Boulevard toward the intersection with Old Cherokee Road. As he approached the intersection at a very high rate of speed, Hutto disregarded the red traffic signal governing his lane of travel, drove into the intersection, and violently collided with the driver’s side of the Longstreet’s van forcing it into Plaintiff Kenneth Sinchak’s vehicle.
The collision killed six year old Emma Longstreet. Despite incurring a medical decapitation from the force of the impact, Emma underwent several hours of life sustaining and resuscitative measures by medical personnel with her mother by her side until her father could be stabilized and transported from the ER to say goodbye to his daughter. The collision also placed the surviving three minor children in intensive care with significant and permanent injuries, tore tendons in Karen Longstreet’s shoulder, fractured David Longstreet’s neck, and caused unimaginable mental and physical pain and suffering.
Plaintiff Sinchak was also knocked unconscious from the force of the collision and sustained injuries including, but not limited to, a severe concussion, partial facial paralysis, memory deficits, and permanent impairments.
Since the accident, Mr. Hutto has pled guilty to ABHAN and felony DUI for which he is serving a nine-year prison sentence. Since his guilty plea, the driver confessed as to the alcohol he was served until at least 5:30 a.m. at The Loose Cockaboose on the morning of the wreck.
Legal Issues Involved
Plaintiffs’ case is a dram shop action. The following legal precedent applies to this case:
- S.C. Code Ann. § 61-4-580. Prohibited acts.”(A) No holder of a permit authorizing the sale of beer or wine or a servant, agent, or employee of the permittee may knowingly commit any of the following acts upon the licensed premises covered by the holder’s permit:
(2) sell beer or wine to an intoxicated person;
(5) permit any act, the commission of which tends to create a public nuisance or which constitutes a crime under the laws of this State;
(6) sell, offer for sale, or possess any beverage or alcoholic liquors the sale or possession of which is prohibited on the licensed premises under the law of this State.
- S.C. Code Ann. § 61-8-10. Common nuisances.
“The unlawful sale, barter, exchange, storage or keeping in possession in this State of spirituous, malt, vinous, fermented, brewed (whether lager or rice beer) or other liquors or beverages or a compound or mixture thereof which contains alcohol and is used as a beverage is hereby declared a common nuisance.”
- South Carolina Case Law.
In Hartfield v. Getaway Lounge & Grill, Inc., 388 S.C. 407, 697 S.E.2d 558 (2010), the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed a $10 million jury verdict against a bar that was found to have served an intoxicated person who later caused an automobile accident resulting in injuries. In Hartfield, the Supreme Court recognized the viability of a private right of action which arises from Chapter 8 of Title 61 of the South Carolina Code of Laws. In support of its opinion, the Court cited and discussed Daley v. Ward, 303 S.C. 81, 399 S.E.2d 13 (Ct.App.1990), in which “the court of appeals established that a third party injured by actions of an intoxicated person served in violation of the earlier version of section 61–4–580 may pursue a civil action against the vendor. Daley, 303 S.C. at 84, 399 S.E.2d at 14. The court further allowed that an injured third party may show that the alleged violators knowingly served alcohol to an intoxicated person or were confronted with such information, from the person’s appearance or otherwise, as would lead a prudent man to believe that the person was intoxicated. See id. at 86, 399 S.E.2d at 15.” Hartfield v. Getaway Lounge & Grill, Inc., 388 S.C. 407, 415-16, 697 S.E.2d 558, 562 (2010).
All the Way the Verdict
The Longstreet family was innocent. They were simply on their way to church, having taken every possible safety precaution to protect their family, when their lives were forever changed by the combined reckless behavior of Patrick Hutto and three Columbia bars. The Longstreet family wanted justice and they wanted a verdict – a permanent acknowledgement from the community that more should have been done to protect their child.
The Longstreet Family trusted and empowered the Fayssoux Law Firm to fight unto the very end and take this case all the way to trial and verdict. It was never about the money but instead represented a final opportunity to stand up for Emma and make the community aware of the senseless and reckless activities of several Columbia bars. The jury’s unanimous verdict of $3.85 Million Dollars sends a strong and clear message to those who were accountable and to other establishments that operate in violation of South Carolina liquor laws.
It is important to note that establishing the fault of a retailer or alcohol vendor is a complex process. Dram shop liability cases can offer justice to victims, but those who wish to pursue these cases are wise to seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney and actual trial lawyer early in the process.
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Paul Landis is an attorney at Fayssoux and Landis law firm. Paul specializes in personal injury law, business litigation, and medical malpractice law. Paul is a top 40 under 40 US Trial Lawyer. Learn more about Paul.