Action: Wrongful death and dram shop
Injuries alleged: Death
Amount: $8.35 million
Date: April 26, 2023
Attorneys: Kenneth Berger and Brad Lanford of the Law Office of Kenneth Berger, Myrtle Beach, and David Yarborough and Reynolds Blankenship of Yarborough Applegate, Charleston (for the plaintiff)
On Jan. 15, 2022, Austin Henson was served alcohol at multiple bars in York County. The bar names remain confidential pursuant to the settlement agreement, though it is undisputed that at least one of these bars served Henson despite knowing he was only a teenager at the time.
Throughout the night, Henson consumed more and more alcohol. He and his friends traveled to multiple bars before making their way to the 99 Island Dam. The group then decided to drive to a nearby lookout as snow began to fall. Riding next to Henson was a friend, Tristen Hewitt, 22.
Henson was intoxicated and traveling too fast for conditions along Cherokee Falls Road when his vehicle approached a bend. He lost control, and the vehicle went off the right side of the road and struck a tree. Hewitt was severely injured.
Rushed to a local hospital, he was placed on life support. He died later with his mother, Angelisa Sullivan, holding his hand.
Henson was charged with felony DUI. His toxicology report showed a blood alcohol level of 0.11, and testing revealed cocaine, benzoylecgonine and THC in his blood.
A civil action was subsequently filed against Henson and the bars that allegedly served him. The lawsuit was properly served upon all defendants. The defendant bars then provided their insurance broker with copies of the lawsuit well within the time an answer was due. The insurance broker nonetheless failed to forward copies of the lawsuit to the respective liquor liability carriers, resulting in an entry of default against the bars.
The combination of dram shop liability and broker negligence posed an extraordinary risk for the bars and the insurance agency. Through a series of complex negotiations, all claims were eventually settled for $8.35 million.