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Club argued drunken patron at fault for injuries leading to death

Type:

Verdict-Defendant

State:

Texas

Venue:

Federal

Court:

United States District Court, Western District, Austin

Injury Type(s):

back-fracture, vertebra;
neck-fracture, vertebra;
other-death; cardiac-cardiac arrest; pulmonary/respiratory-respiratory; paralysis/quadriplegia-paraplegia; paralysis/quadriplegia-quadriplegia

Case Type:

Hotel/Restaurant – Dram Shop; Worker/Workplace Negligence – Negligent Service of Alcohol

Case Name:

William Slade Sullivan v. The City of Round Rock, Texas, and Officers N.J. Zoss, L.M. Osborn, B.B. Johnson, C.S. Mount, K.A. Mayo, and A.P. Ballew,
No. 1:14-cv-00349-AWA

Date:

October 5, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Aaron Brothers (Male, 34 Years), 

Rosemary Claus Sullivan, 

Estate of William Slade Sullivan (Male, 44 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Broadus A. Spivey;
Spivey & Grigg LLP;
Austin,
TX,
for
Aaron Brothers, Rosemary Claus Sullivan, Estate of William Slade Sullivan ■ Dicky Grigg;
Spivey & Grigg LLP;
Austin,
TX,
for
Aaron Brothers, Rosemary Claus Sullivan, Estate of William Slade Sullivan

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Dwain Fuller; F-ABFT, TX-NRCC; Toxicology; Mansfield,
TX called by:
Broadus A. Spivey, Dicky Grigg ■ Randy Yarbrough; Dram Shop; Austin,
TX called by:
Broadus A. Spivey, Dicky Grigg ■ George Berry; Ph.D.; Economics; Austin,
TX called by:
Broadus A. Spivey, Dicky Grigg ■ George Kirkham; Ph.D; Police Practices & Procedures; Palm Beach Gardens,
FL called by:
Broadus A. Spivey, Dicky Grigg ■ Robert Cain; M.D.; Neurology; Austin,
TX called by:
Broadus A. Spivey, Dicky Grigg ■ Camille Wortman; Ph.D.; Psychology Trauma; East Setauket,
NY called by:
Broadus A. Spivey, Dicky Grigg

Defendant(s):

C.S. Mount, 

L.M. Osborn, 

B.B. Johnson, 

Nathan J. Zoss, 

Aaron P. Ballew, 

Kristen A. Mayo, 

City of Round Rock, 

RCI Hospitality Holdings Inc., 

Rick’s Cabaret International Inc., 

RCI Dining Services (Round Rock) Inc.

Defense Attorney(s):

Archie Carl Pierce;
Wright & Greenhill;
Austin,
TX,
for
C.S. Mount, L.M. Osborn, B.B. Johnson, Nathan J. Zoss, Aaron P. Ballew, Kristen A. Mayo, City of Round Rock ■ Darrell L Barger;
Hartline Dacus Barger Dreyer LLP;
Corpus Christi,
TX,
for
RCI Hospitality Holdings Inc., Rick’s Cabaret International Inc., RCI Dining Services (Round Rock) Inc. ■ Brian Rawson;
Hartline Dacus Barger Dreyer LLP;
Dallas,
TX,
for
RCI Hospitality Holdings Inc., Rick’s Cabaret International Inc., RCI Dining Services (Round Rock) Inc. ■ Stephanie Roark;
Hartline Dacus Barger Dreyer LLP;
Dallas,
TX,
for
RCI Hospitality Holdings Inc., Rick’s Cabaret International Inc., RCI Dining Services (Round Rock) Inc.

Defendant Expert(s):

Helen Reynolds;
Economics;
Dallas,
TX called by:
Darrell L Barger, Brian Rawson, Stephanie Roark ■ Keith Coleman;
Restaurants & Bars;
Houston,
TX called by:
Darrell L Barger, Brian Rawson, Stephanie Roark ■ Wayne Snodgrass;
Toxicology;
Galveston,
TX called by:
Darrell L Barger, Brian Rawson, Stephanie Roark

Facts:

On March 21, 2014, plaintiffs’ decedent William Slade Sullivan, a 44-year-old unemployed man, patronized Rick’s Cabaret, a strip club, in Round Rock. He gave his keys to a Rick’s employee for safekeeping, and he ran up a $400 bar tab. His blood alcohol concentration reached at least 0.24. At some point, the employee gave back the keys to Sullivan, and Sullivan tried to leave. The employee reported to police that Sullivan was too drunk to drive. Round Rock Police came to the scene and forcibly extricated Sullivan from his vehicle. Officers Nathan Zoss, Kristen Mayo, Aaron Ballew, L.M. Osborn, B.B. Johnson and C.S. Mount were allegedly involved in the incident. Sullivan sustained severe injuries, and several months later he died as a result of complications. Rick’s was owned and operated by RCI Dining Services (Round Rock) Inc. Initially, the plaintiffs thought that RCI Hospitality Holdings Inc. or Rick’s Cabaret International Inc. might be the owner and operator. Sullivan’s mother, Rosemary Claus Sullivan, and an administrator on behalf of the estate sued the police officers and the city for excessive force; sued the city under the Americans with Disabilities Act and 42 USC § 1983; and sued the Rick’s entities for negligence and dram shop violations. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed Osborn, Johnson and Mount after discovery showed that they did not arrive at the scene until after Sullivan was in custody. During an interlocutory appeal by Zoss, May, Ballew and the city, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that, as a matter of law, these officers did not use excessive force. The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the other claims against the city before trial. The only defendant still in the case at the time of trial was RCI Dining Services. The family claimed that some Rick’s employees persuaded Sullivan to come to the club for a night of partying and drinking, and they promised to take Sullivan home afterward. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued that Rick’s undertook a duty to Sullivan by promising to get him home safely, and that Rick’s broke that promise by returning his keys to him. The plaintiffs’ toxicology expert performed a blood alcohol concentration extrapolation and opined that Sullivan was likely served alcohol when obviously intoxicated. The defense argued that it was an unfortunate incident that resulted from Sullivan’s decision to drink too much and then refuse numerous offers of a safe ride home. He also refused to comply with police requests to turn off and exit his vehicle, the defense argued. According to the defense, Sullivan had a high tolerance for alcohol based on his drinking history, and did not appear obviously intoxicated to anyone at the club when he was served. Also, despite his high bar tab, he was served only four drinks, the defense argued. The club’s management also contended that it satisfied any duty it owed Sullivan by offering him a free cab ride home, a free hotel room across the street and a ride home in the club’s sport utility vehicle. According to the defense, Sullivan refused these offers and said he wanted his keys only so that he could charge his cell phone and call a friend for a ride. A security guard warned Sullivan that police would be called if he started his car, the defense argued. The defense also argued that Sullivan’s refusal to cooperate with police was unforeseeable and a new and independent cause of his injuries and death.

Injury:

During his removal from his vehicle, Sullivan fractured his spine in three places and was rendered a paraplegic. He was hospitalized, and the week after the incident, he was undergoing spine surgery and went into cardiac arrest. Medical personnel performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, during which Sullivan sustained additional spinal fractures and transection of the spinal cord, resulting in quadriplegia. He lived for five more months on a ventilator. He was survived by his mother, plaintiff Rosemary Claus Sullivan, and he was her only child. The paid or incurred medical bills were more than $2 million. The estate also sought past physical pain and mental anguish and physical impairment. Sullivan’s mother sought past and future loss of companionship and society, mental anguish and pecuniary loss. Plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury for a little more than $10 million.

Result:

The jury rendered a defense verdict, finding that RCI Dining Services was not negligent or that Sullivan was not served while he was obviously intoxicated.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Andrew W. Austin

Demand:

$10,000,000

Offer:

$75,000

Trial Length:

1
 weeks

Trial Deliberations:

30
 minutes

Jury Vote:

8-0

Jury Composition:

3 male/ 5 female

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff’s and defense counsel. Additional information was gleaned from court documents.