Tallahassee, FL— Jurors Friday hit two Florida bars with a $30.8 million verdict for the devastating brain damage a woman suffered in a hit-and-run that followed a night of underage drinking. Faircloth v. Cantina 101, et al., 2015-CA-002778.
The jury, in the state’s 2nd Judicial Circuit, awarded the amount after finding Devon Dwyer’s drunk driving caused him to hit Jacquelyn Faircloth on Tallahassee’s West Pensacola Street in November 2014.
Dwyer, then 20, had left Potbelly’s, a bar near the Florida State University campus, moments before the crash, while Faircloth, then 18, had left Cantina 101, another area bar. Both had been drinking.
The collision left Faircloth with severe brain damage, unable to communicate verbally or care for herself.
Dwyer, who fled the scene, was ultimately arrested and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for the incident.
Faircloth’s attorneys contend that the bars that served the underage drinkers were responsible for the wreck. Cantina 101 admitted liability for the incident. However, Main Street Entertainment, the owner of Potbelly’s, argued Dwyer was not drunk when he hit Faircloth.
During Friday’s closings, Kubicki Draper’s Michael Carney told Dwyer had remained steadfast in his claim that he only drank four or five beers in his four hours at the bar before the crash. “At times when maybe you might think that he would have a reason, just as a human being, to say ‘Maybe it was more,’ he never did,” Carney said.
Carney also argued Dwyer was not able to avoid the accident. Carney contended data and conclusions from the plaintiff's accident reconstruction expert, Bryant Buchner, weren't consistent with witness testimony concerning the accident. "From the beginning, I would suggest you've heard nothing that remotely approximates Mr. Buchner's wreck reconstruction," Carney said. "You haven't heard anyone describe that accident that way."
But Avera & Smith's Mark Avera, representing the Faircloth family, countered that the weight of evidence showed Dwyer was driving at least 15 miles per hour over the speed limit and would have been able to avoid the crash, which occurred moments after he left Potbelly's had he not been drunk. "His faculties are impaired," Avera said. "That's the explanation as to why that happens, ladies and gentlemen."
And Avera pointed to evidence he said clearly established that Dwyer was intoxicated when he left Potbelly’s. He noted Dwyer fled the scene over concerns surrounding his drinking. And he walked jurors through the hours before the accident, noting one friend said Dwyer looked drunk, while receipts showed he had purchased 18 beers and six bourbons in his time at the bar. “I would submit to you that he’s not sitting there in that bar for four hours with one beer in his hand for each and every hour.”
This is the second time the case has gone before a jury this year. In February, jurors declared themselves deadlocked after deliberating across three days. CVN covered both trials gavel-to-gavel.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as events warrant.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 and Michael Carney.
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