A $25 Million verdict resulted after four hours of deliberation in the Texas civil dramshop lawsuit arising out of the death of Dallas Cowboys professional football player Jerry Brown.
Although this case was litigated in Texas, a similar result could have been reached had Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law been applied which holds bars and nightclubs responsible for injuries and deaths resulting from serving alcohol to minors or visibly intoxicated patrons.
The Facts of the Jerry Brown Case
Jerry Brown and Josh Brent had been good friends ever since they were roommates while playing football at the University of Illinois. In 2014, their wildest dreams had come true as they were both playing professional football for the Dallas Cowboys.
On the night of December 8, 2012, Brown and Brent were at the Dallas nightclub Beamers and were being treated to bottle service. Brown, Brent and the others in the group enjoyed three bottles of champagne as well as other drinks.
The two left the bar with Brent driving. As Brent was speeding on the highway, he lost control, hit a curb, the car flipped and Brown was killed. Brown’s Blood Alcohol Content was .056 which was below the legal limit, but Brent’s was .18 percent, over twice the legal limit.
Criminal Charges for Brent
Brent faced criminal charges for his drunk driving but, mainly due to a plea for leniency by Brown’s mother, Brent was sentenced to probation.
Civil Claims Against the Nightclub
Brown’s family filed a civil lawsuit against Beamers nightclub alleging that it improperly served Brent alcohol which led to the crash and Brown’s death. The family attorney explained that the nightclub chose to serve its celebrity guests because they were buying expensive bottles and running up a large tab, while not considering what might happen when Brent got behind the wheel.
Ultimately the Jury found Brent and the nightclub each to be 48% responsible and also found that Brown himself was 4% responsible for the accident. The Jury awarded the family $25 million.
Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Law
Pennsylvania has a Dram Shop Law similar to the Texas law applied in the Brown case which holds bars and nightclubs responsible for injuries or deaths resulting from their improper service of minors or “visibly intoxicated” patrons.
In order for the bar to be liable two elements must be proven: 1- that the bar violated the Liquor Law by serving a minor or someone who was “visibly intoxicated”; and 2- that the violation caused the injuries and damages.
Legal claims for violation of the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Law occur after Bar Fights, Car Accidents or Pedestrian Accidents. The cases are often very contentious because sometimes they involve the intoxicated person being injured or killed which allows the bar to assert the defense that it was the victim’s voluntarily act of drinking to excess, rather than the bar’s act of serving the individual, that caused the injury.
Cases like Brown’s tend to be more successful when there was another person involved who was over-served and caused the accident, although in those cases, the bar can still blame the over-served person or the victim to try to escape liability.
In the Brown case, the defense tried that tactic and the result was that liability was divided 48% to the nightclub and Brent and just 4% to Brown.
Tim Rayne is a Car Accident and Personal Injury Lawyer with MacElree Harvey. For over 20 years, Tim has been helping injured victims of accidents understand their legal rights and receive fair compensation from insurance companies. Tim has offices in Kennett Square and West Chester Pennsylvania. Contact Tim at 6108400124 or [email protected]