The family of a Charleston county man killed by a drunk driver settled its wrongful death case for $1.44 million. Gerard Nieto’s family filed the lawsuit against Jason Marion, who is serving a six-year prison sentence for reckless homicide after pleading guilty to causing Nieto’s death, and the bars and restaurants who served Marion alcohol that night. A Charleston county jury had preliminarily determined that a $1.75 million award for actual damages, excluding potential punitive damages, would be appropriate, but the family reached the settlements before the case went to trial to determine liability.
Liability of Alcohol-Serving Establishments
In this case, the family alleged that Marion went on a more than seven-hour drinking binge at five alcohol-serving establishments, including Wild Wing and Gene’s Haufbrau, before driving on the road. Marion began drinking at a downtown Charleston restaurant where he purchased five or six pitchers of beer over three hours, moved on to another bar where he drank two more liquor drinks, proceeded to a third bar for more drinks, then headed to Wild Wing where consumed more liquor. After leaving Wild Wing, Marion continued to Gene’s Haufbrau for more drinks and shots with the bartender.
At around 1:20 A.M., Marion left Gene’s Haufbrau and crashed into Nieto, who was thrown from his bicycle onto the road. Marion’s truck dragged the bike for about a quarter-mile and then drove off. He failed to provide aid to Nieto and did not wait for police or report the accident.
South Carolina recognizes “dram shop” claims, which is a claim against the bar, tavern, or liquor store that sold or provided alcohol to a drunk driver before a crash that causes injuries. Although there is no specific statute authorizing such claims, they have been recognized in decisions by the South Carolina Supreme Court. Additionally, establishments that are licensed to sell alcohol are prohibited by South Carolina statute from selling alcoholic beverages to persons who are already intoxicated and, if they do so, they are subject to penalties.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, South Carolina is the worstin the nation with regard to the percentage of traffic deaths involving drunk driving. The state had 767 traffic deaths in 2013, of which 335 were attributable to drunk driving. That equals to 44 percent, which is well above the national average of 31 percent.
Duties of Drivers Involved in Accidents
South Carolina law requires drivers involved in accidents that result in injury to immediately stop their vehicles at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible. The driver is then required to stay there, provide information, and render aid to injured persons, and may leave only to report the accident to the proper authorities. Failure to do so is a felony if the injured individual suffers substantial injury or dies as a result of the accident.
There are many potential factors involved in a hit-and-run accident. Alcohol use, as in Nieto’s case above, or drug use by the driver may be at play. Distracted driving may also be involved.