Mark Avera delivers his opening statement at trial against two Tallahassee bars for the catastrophic brain damage Jacquelyn Faircloth suffered in a 2014 crash.
Tallahassee, FL— Attorneys Monday argued over the role alcohol played in a late-night crash that left an 18-year-old Florida woman with catastrophic brain damage, as trial opened against two bars that served a pair of underage drinkers. Faircloth v. Cantina Tallahassee, LLC, et al., 2015-CA-002778.
Jacquelyn Faircloth was crossing Tallahassee’s West Pensacola Street in November 2014 when she was struck by a pickup truck driven by Devon Dwyer, moments after he left Potbelly’s, a bar near the Florida State University campus.
The crash left Faircloth, now 22, with lifelong brain damage, unable to communicate verbally or care for herself.
During Monday’s openings, Faircloth’s attorney, Avera & Smith’s Mark Avera, told jurors he would request up to $31.6 million in economic damages alone, plus an as-yet unspecified amount for pain and suffering.
“It is difficult to put into words what Jackie’s life is like today. And, although I’ve worked hard at it, words are inadequate to describe it,” Avera told jurors Monday. “Today she is a passive observer in her own life.”
Dwyer, a 20-year-old employee of Potbelly’s at the time of the crash, was off work and drinking at the bar for about four hours before he left in his truck and struck Faircloth, who had recently been drinking at Cantina 101, another area bar.
Dwyer, who fled the scene, was ultimately arrested, and in 2016, sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for the hit and run.
Trial against the owners of Potbelly’s and Cantina 101 turns on the role intoxication of the underage drinkers plays in the crash.
Cantina 101’s owner admits fault for illegally serving Faircloth booze, so trial against that bar is effectively limited to damages.
Main Street Entertainment, the owner of Potbelly’s, admits to serving Dwyer alcohol but contends he was not drunk at the time of the crash. Instead, it claims Faircloth’s own negligence caused the wreck.
During Monday’s openings, Main Street’s attorney, Kubicki Draper’s Brian Chojnowski, told jurors evidence would show Faircloth was drunk and running across the street when the collision occurred. Chojnowski said damage to the driver’s side quarter-panel of Dwyer’s truck showed Faircloth ran into the side of the vehicle and that Dwyer was not able to avoid the wreck.
Chojnowski told jurors Dwyer would testify that he had only four drinks in his roughly four hours at the bar. He added that, while witnesses said he may have been speeding in the 30 mph zone, they did not describe him as weaving or otherwise driving erratically.
“Devon Dwyer, up until the collision, wasn’t operating his vehicle in a way that would be inconsistent with a 20-year-old guy driving a pickup truck,” Chojnowski said. “An intoxicated person may run into the street, may run into the side of a vehicle. A sober person may drive 10 maybe 15 miles, maybe more, over the speed limit. That speeding is not an indicator, in and of itself, of Devon Dwyer’s intoxication.”
But Avera argues Dwyer was driving drunk and caused the crash. During Monday’s openings, Avera told jurors evidence would show Dwyer bought 18 beers and six bourbons in his four hours at the bar.
Avera said one witness described Dwyer as looking drunk the night of the crash, while expert testimony would show Dwyer was going about 55 miles per hour when he struck Faircloth, around a minute after leaving the bar.
Avera acknowledged no blood-alcohol test was performed on Dwyer, but attributed that to Dwyer’s own decision to leave the crash site and hide his vehicle. “You don’t have a blood-alcohol level for Mr. Dwyer because he took that with him when he fled the scene,” Avera said, adding Dwyer left the crash, in part, because he feared a DUI charge.
Avera contended that by the time the jury began deliberations, “We will have proven with overwhelming evidence that Devon Dwyer was intoxicated when he hit Jackie Faircloth.”
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Jacquelyn Faircloth is represented by Avera & Smith’s Mark Avera and Hinkle & Foran’s Donald Hinkle.
Main Street Entertainment is represented by Kubicki Draper’s Brian Chojnowski.
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