Jury awards over $3M after gas station sells alcohol to minor 

A South Carolina gas station has been found liable as part of a more than $3 million award stemming from a drunk driving crash after staff allegedly failed to check identification of an underage alcohol purchaser.

David Yarborough, Reynolds Blankenship, and David Lail of Yarborough Applegate in Charleston represented Damien Cooper, who filed suit after a 2017 collision left him with extensive injuries including a broken femur, two broken knees, a fractured wrist, a punctured lung and post-concussive syndrome issues.

Lail

“We knew there was a drunk driver involved on the other side, and we knew that he was underage, so obviously we set out to find out where the alcohol came from,” Yarborough said.

Sunoco LP and Sunoco Retail LLC were named in the suit, which alleged that the drinks were bought at one of its locations.

Yarborough said the defense made a variety of arguments in the matter, including attempting to undercut testimony from the purchaser about whether he had obtained the beverages from the store at all.

“They tried to take away from the credibility of the boys by suggesting that there was no evidence of the sale, but at the same time they allowed for the possibility that it did occur,” he said.

Yarborough

Yarborough said that Sunoco contended that no receipt was found to prove the purchase happened and that security video footage from the time in question had already been automatically recorded over. Yarborough said the defendants also argued that the buyer had previously used a fake ID at the location, although he testified that he hadn’t done so in this instance. Complicating matters further, the purchaser of the alcohol wasn’t the at-fault driver.

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“I think that was one of the sticking points for Sunoco in disputing liability in the case was that they didn’t believe that the law in South Carolina provided for a cause of action against a store when they sold it to one minor and he shared it with another minor,” Yarborough said.

Yarborough argued that the defendant was still liable and that the company’s own training materials noted the possibility of minors sharing alcohol after its illegal acquisition and its policy was to card anyone who appeared to be below the age of 30.

There was also dispute over the extent of injury in the case, with the defense arguing that Cooper had made a good recovery and had resumed work.

“Our position was that he may be back at work now making more than before, but over the course of his lifetime, he won’t be able to have a full work life,” Yarborough said. “We argued that he had a loss of earning capacity as opposed to lost wages.”

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Yarborough said that Jackson Watts, the at-fault driver, was named in the suit but acknowledged liability in the crash and testified about the purchase.

On Nov. 4, jurors awarded $3.064 million in actual damages for which Sunoco and Watts jointly and severally liable, including $715,000 in past and future medical expenses and $224,000 in lost earning capacity. The jury also found Watts liable for $100,000 in punitive damages.

“We were very grateful that the jury was able to see through the defenses and that they came back with a full measure of justice for Damien Cooper,” Yarborough said.

Blankenship

Ryan Holt and Mark Barrow of Sweeny Wingate & Barrow represented Sunoco and Robert Kneece III of Turner Padget represented Watts. None of the attorneys returned messages requesting comment.

VERDICT REPORT – DRAM SHOP

Amount: $3.164 million

Injuries alleged: Orthopedic injuries including a broken femur, two broken knees, a broken wrist, a chipped cervical bone, post-concussive syndrome, torn ACL, and torn PCL

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Case name: Damien Cooper v. Jackson Watts; Sunoco LP; Sunoco Retail, LLC

Court: Charleston County Circuit Court

Case No.: 2017-CP-10-6307

Judge: Jennifer McCoy

Date of verdict: Nov. 4

Highest offer: $1 million

Special damages: $715,000 in past and future medical expenses, $224,000 in lost earning capacity, $100,000 in punitive damages

Attorneys for plaintiff: David Yarborough, Reynolds Blankenship, and David Lail of Yarborough Applegate in Charleston

Attorneys for defendants: Ryan Holt and Mark Barrow of Sweeny Wingate & Barrow of Columbia for Sunoco and Robert Kneece III of Turner Padget in Charleston for driver

The post Jury awards over $3M after gas station sells alcohol to minor (access required) first appeared on South Carolina Lawyers Weekly.

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