Earlier this week a settlement was announced in the Husk Restaurant drunk driving case. In the lawsuit, the survivors of a 32-year-old man who died in a horrific car accident fire alleged that the accident was caused by an assistant manager at the Husk Restaurant who was allowed to get drunk on its premises and then drive home at 4 AM. While driving home in an intoxicated state - his blood-alcohol levels was reportedly three times the legal limit - he crashed into the back of the decedent’s car, which then smashed into a concrete barrier, exploded, and trapped the driver inside while it burned.
Sadly, the lawsuit was notable not because these types of horrific drunk driving accidents are uncommon - our law firm just filed one last week - because of the prominence of the defendant, which was named one of the best restaurants in America by Bon Appetit magazine. According to the court documents filed, the cases is settling for $1.1 million. That is an unusually low amount given the terrible nature of the damages, which would include not only the decedent’s lost wages and benefits he would have provided his family if he had been alive, but also extraordinary pain-and-suffering damages as a result of the blunt force trauma and burn injuries he suffered, and so we believe the settlement reflects the limits of the restaurant’s insurance policy.
Unfortunately, most businesses in America simply don’t have the cash on hand to fund settlements for catastrophic injuries or wrongful death, as we discussed on this blog recently in a terrible case involving an oil rig truck accident. As successful as the restaurant likely is, there’s a good chance that profits every year are taken out by the partners, and so the business itself doesn’t really have to much to fund a settlement.
If the plaintiff kept going forward, they would have to prevail at trial, then prevail all the way through the appeal, and then continue the claim through bankruptcy court, where the bulk of the claim’s value would likely be dismissed. That sort of long journey simply isn’t worth it to most plaintiffs who are trying to move on with their lives, and so we certainly don’t fault the plaintiff here, or any plaintiff who accepted the insurance policy limits in lieu of years of difficult litigation that was unlikely to actually provide more benefit to the family.
Our hope, however, is that the settlement and the news will spur more restaurants and their insurers to look into policies regarding drinking by staff and management after hours. This isn’t the first case we’ve heard of in which a manager or bartender continues to drink after the patrons are sent home at 2 PM, and then, in the wee hours of the morning, drives home while seriously intoxicated. Even restaurants and bars that are good about following the law and not serving visibly intoxicated patrons sometimes let their guard down when the “patron” is another member of the restaurant staff. This case is a tragic reminder of the dangers in letting that happen, and the dangers of easy access to alcohol in general.