A Greenville County jury has awarded $7.523 million, including $5 million in punitive damages, to the family of a man who was killed by a drunk driver.
Paul Landis and Wally Fayssoux of Fayssoux & Landis in Greenville and Elizabeth Powers Price of Greenville, who represented the victim’s family, said that it had also reached a confidential dram shop settlement with the bar which had served the driver after the estate rested its case at trial.
David Gibson was riding his motorcycle on Main Street in Simpsonville on Jan. 29, 2016, and waiting to make a left turn when he was rear-ended by Marka Jean Fuller, who was driving 60 mph in a 25 mph zone. Gibson was thrown from the motorcycle and died at the scene.
Fuller was charged with felony DUI resulting in death. She pleaded guilty to the charge in May 2017 and is still awaiting a deferred sentencing, according to the clerk of court.
Landis said that Fuller had consumed nine or 10 drinks at the nearby Full House Sportzaria in the span of a little more than three hours. The crash occurred about five minutes after Fuller left the bar.
Gibson’s family argued that Full House was negligent for continuing to serve Fuller despite her intoxication. They alleged that Full House employees provided Fuller with shots of liquor and other alcohol even though she was “slurring words, creating disturbances, having trouble ambulating, harassing other customers and taking food off of other patrons’ plates.”
Toxicologist David Eagerton testified that a toxicology report on Fuller revealed that her blood alcohol level was .168 several hours after the crash. Eagerton’s retrograde analysis determined that her peak blood alcohol level would have exceeded .21 that evening, and she would have been roughly at a .18 at the time when she left Full House. (The legal limit is .08.)
“Our position was that Full House served Ms. Fuller when they knew or should have known that she was intoxicated,” Landis said.
The jury returned its verdict on July 26. Fuller’s insurance company paid $100,000 in damages as part of her liability coverage; Landis declined to comment on the extent to which the remainder of the verdict against Fuller would be recoverable.
Landis said the estate pursued a jury trial in order to provide closure to Gibson’s family and because Fuller had, to that point, faced no consequences for her actions. He also said that, because of the weight of the evidence presented in Fuller’s case, “there wasn’t much work left to in the Full House settlement.”
Landis said the amount of the punitive damage is indicative of the mindset of juries in Greenville County when it comes to drunk driving cases.
“I think that there’s a perception that Greenville County is very conservative when it comes to injury cases. And I think the reality is that Greenville County juries appreciate considerable loss and are fully capable of awarding damages that are consistent with that loss,” Landis said. “It’s a reminder to everyone of the dangers of drunk driving and how the community views that conduct.”
Bill Young, David Rheney, and Phil Reeves of Gallivan, White & Boyd in Greenville represented Full House Sportzaria. Ryan Beasley of Greenville represented Fuller. The attorneys declined to comment on the case.
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VERDICT/SETTLEMENT REPORT — WRONGFUL DEATH/DRAM SHOP
Amount: $7,523,000 verdict against drunk driver; confidential dram shop settlement
Injuries alleged: Death
Case name: Rachel Gibson, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of David Herman Gibson v. Marka Jean Fuller and Full House Sportzaria LLC
Court: Greenville County Circuit Court
Case No: 2017-CP-23-06352
Judge: Alex Kinlaw
Date of verdict: July 26
Special damages: $2,523,000 in actual damages, $5,000,000 in punitive damages
Most helpful experts: David Eagerton of Buies Creek, North Carolina (toxicologist)
Attorneys for the plaintiff: Paul Landis and Wally Fayssoux of Fayssoux & Landis in Greenville and Elizabeth Powers Price of Greenville
Attorneys for the defendant: Bill Young, David Rheney, and Phil Reeves of Gallivan, White & Boyd in Greenville for Full House Sportzaria and Ryan Beasley of Greenville for Marka Jean Fuller