Over serving a guest is never a good idea. However, in the wake of a high profile death, a Dallas jury just added several million reasons to the list of reasons to be careful. The court delivered a $25 million ruling finding an intoxicated driver, former NFL player Josh Brent, and the club that served him both responsible for the death of a man in a drink driving accident.
“There’s a reason why Texas law holds bars accountable for injuries caused by overserved patrons,” said plaintiff’s counsel Charla Aldous. “This establishment chose to continue serving this celebrity guest because he was buying expensive bottles and running up a large tab. No one bothered to consider the consequences when he got behind the wheel.”
In December 2012, Brent, then a defensive tackle for the Dallas Cowboys, flipped his Mercedes S63 while driving drunk. Brent’s passenger, best friend and teammate, Jerry Brown was killed in the crash.
The wreck occurred after Brent and Brown, close since playing together at University of Illinois, spent the night drinking with other teammates at Privae, a private club inside the now shuttered NW Dallas nightclub Beamers. Security footage showed Brent drinking champagne from the bottle and pouring himself multiple cognacs.
During the evening, one Privae promoter tweeted, “’12 Cowboys are in theeee [sic] building,” and that “those fools are buying Ace on top of Ace!!!!” (referencing bottle service of Ace of Spades champagne.)
When tested after the crash, Brent’s BAC was .018, about twice the legal limit in Texas. The jury concluded that the (then) 6’2”, 310lb Brent had consumed a minimum 14 drinks to reach that level of intoxication.
The car was doing 110mph in a 45mph zone before hitting a curb, flipping, and catching fire.
Brown’s parents sued Beamers’ management as well as Brown for wrongful death. The jury concurred finding those two parties each 48% responsible for the tragedy. (Brown, himself, was ruled 4%) responsible. The parties will be required to pay the settlement to Brown’s estate.
Of note to those in the club business, the concept of bottle service was a key element in the argument. Brent ordered two bottles of champagne and a bottle of cognac to his table. The plaintiffs successfully argued that the club allowed Brent to drink well beyond the limit by leaving the bottles on the table for him to serve himself.
“At some point, about 30 minutes or so before he leaves, Josh Brent has the bottle in his hand and he’s drinking straight out of the bottle of champagne. Never once does anyone at Beamers ever regulate Josh Brent or tell him to stop drinking,” said Brent Walker, counsel for the Browns.
Brent was convicted Intoxication Manslaughter in 2014 and was sentenced to 18 days incarceration and 10 years of probation. Brown’s mother, Stacey Jackson publicly forgave Brent and asked him to sit with her family at the funeral. (The plaintiff’s filing asked for greater, punitive damages against Beamers only.) During the civil case, he testified for the plaintiffs.
Brent retired from football after the crash. At the urging of Jackson, the Cowboys hired him as scouting intern with the potential of moving up on the organizational ladder.
The case is just the latest in a crackdown on bars that over serve in Texas. In May, a Houston bartender was arrested for over serving a different driver right before a fatal wreck.