Dram Shop Verdict in Favor of Plaintiff Overturned on Technicality

An off-duty police officer gets into his vehicle after hours of drinking at a local strip club following his shift. He travels at speeds of up to 120 miles-per-hour. He slams into another vehicle, driven by a minister on his way home from church.
This tragic case unfolded in Alabama. The family endured the loss of a man they cherished, a lengthy criminal trial for the former officer and then two more civil trials in which they alleged negligence by the driver and also the club that served him alcohol when he was clearly already drunk. The officer was convicted, sentenced to 13 years, and they won both civil cases, ultimately receiving a verdict for damages totaling $40 million – $37 million of that to be paid by the strip club.

But now, our Asheville drunk driving injury lawyers understand the family has been dealt another significant blow, after the state supreme court overturned the $37 million dram shop verdict in Volcano Enterprises, Inc. v. Rush on a technicality.

Specifically, the Alabama Supreme Court found that the plaintiff had not done enough to notify the defendant/owner of the club of the proceedings prior to trial. An agent had been hired to serve notice to the defendant, and the court ruled efforts to notify were insufficient prior to the trial judge’s approval of notice by publication. This allowed the plaintiff to advertise notice of the lawsuit in the local newspaper. But this, the supreme court determined, is a last measure, and only to be used when the plaintiff has shown the defendant is actively avoiding receipt of civil litigation notice.

The defendant had never shown up in court to defend himself, and the court determined the plaintiff hadn’t exhausted all available remedies to prevent that scenario.

People do attempt to avoid receipt of lawsuit notification, thinking this will allow them to avoid a lawsuit. That’s not true. A lawsuit will eventually proceed. But it may result in a delay. Frustrating though it may be, plaintiffs must ensure that the process is carried out correctly so that this kind of a situation is avoided.

Here, the servicer reportedly learned the defendant’s address had been destroyed in a natural disaster, and there was no forwarding address. He also went to the night club on a few occasions to try to serve him there, but he was not present. No other efforts were made before the trial judge granted a service by publication request.

Once the defendant learned of the sizable verdict against him, he appealed.

It is not yet clear whether the family will attempt to press forward with the claim again.

Dram shop laws vary from state-to-state. In Alabama, the law allows plaintiffs to sue vendors for serving alcohol to either minors or impaired adults who later injury a third party. North Carolina, N.C. Gen. Stat. 18B-120 and 18B-123 only allows action against those who sell alcohol to minors who later drive impaired and cause injury. These claims are capped at $500,000 per crash.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Volcano Enterprises, Inc. v. Rush, May 9, 2014, Alabama Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
“Happy” Post Has a Horribly Sad Ending for North Carolina Driver, May 2, 2014, North Carolina Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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