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Bucks Jury Awards $1.4 Mil. In Dram Shop Case

June 17, 2013

Marie Castelli v. SJW Association, Knights of Columbus
A jury in Bucks County  returned a $1.4 million verdict to a woman claiming she was served alcohol while visibly intoxicated at the bar where she worked before getting in a collision that caused her serious injuries. The jury awarded $262,000 for past medical expenses, $130,000 for past lost earnings and $600,000 for future lost earnings capability, $210,000 for loss of future household services and $225,000 for pain and suffering.  The jury apportioned 50% liability to the bar and 50% liability to the plaintiff for her own comparative negligence.  The verdict was molded to $713,409.19 to account for the plaintiff’s comparative negligence.

On March 8, 2008, plaintiff Marie Castelli, 47, a bartender, attended an employee meeting. After the meeting she was invited to have a few drinks at the bar. Castelli claimed that after drinking two bloody marys, she began feeling the effects of alcohol. A co-worker testified that by 3:30 p.m Castelli was visibly intoxicated. Castelli was reportedly served another two or three drinks before being cut off at 5 p.m. The bartender ended his shift but allegedly did not tell his replacement not to serve Castelli and the new bartender allegedly continued to serve Castelli for the next hour. At 6 p.m., Castelli exited the bar and got in her vehicle and drove away. Road conditions reportedly were unfavorable because of heavy rain. Within 10 minutes of leaving the bar, Castelli’s vehicle exited the roadway and struck a tree head-on.  Two hours after the accident, Castelli's blood-alcohol level was recorded at 0.198.

Castelli was admitted to the hospital for 11 days for bruising to her cervical spine, which required surgical removal of her C4, C5, C6 and C7 discs. A second surgery was performed, in which screws and plates were implanted in her neck. Castelli was later diagnosed with quadriparesis. Castelli was transferred to inpatient care where she treated for two months. She then underwent another couple of months of outpatient care. Castelli allegedly had to relearn how to walk and  could not fully lift her arms above her head for two years. At the time of trial, Castelli walked with a spastic gait, could not grasp objects with her hands and was unable to make a fist or point.

Castelli’s toxicology expert estimated that it was between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. that Castelli would have begun showing visible signs of. Castelli's vocational-rehabilitation expert opined she would not be able to continue working to a typical retirement age. Castelli's neurosurgery expert opined that Castelli will most likely suffer a neurological relapse in the next 10 to 15 years, in which she could sustain more paralysis throughout her body.  No future medical treatment was suggested.

The defense denied any liability and maintained that Castelli, as an adult, was responsible for her own actions. It was stressed that Castelli herself was a bartender.  The defense did not present a medical expert but argued that Castelli’s ongoing complaints were related to her pre-existing carpal tunnel syndrome.

Practice Pointers:

  • Emphasis on personal responsibility and the comparative negligence of the plaintiff in a first party dram shop case is crucial as demonstrated by the 50% liability finding against Castelli;
  • Even traditionally conservative venues can award substantial damages in the right case.

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