Local News

Jurors Weigh Restaurant's Role In 1997 Deadly Drunken-Driving Accident

Posted March 11, 2004

— A jury is deliberating in what could become a landmark case about whether a restaurant can be held responsible for a deadly drunken-driving accident.

When alleged drunken driver William Terry IV left Torero's II Restaurant in Durham on Dec. 3, 1997, he hit a car that Theresa Hall was riding in. Her 39-year-old husband, Michael, died in the crash.

Terry served six months in jail, but Hall's attorneys claim the restaurant should be held liable for her husband's death. The issue is whether the restaurant should be considered negligent.

A jury in 2000 found that the restaurant was not at fault for selling too much alcohol. However, the jury was deadlocked in deciding whether the restaurant should have prevented the customer from driving away.

"This is a case of what you call a case of first impressions," defense attorney Butch Williams said. "It has been tried one time and sent back.

"Bars would have a heck of a duty to analyze each person that is sitting there eating, and when they head out the door, what are they prone to do?" Williams said.

The jury will be asked to consider both aspects of negligence. Jurors deliberated Thursday afternoon and they will resume Friday.

While this is a civil case, most states already have criminal laws called dram shop laws to hold restaurants, bars, and even party hosts responsible for drunken drivers. There are only eight states in the United States -- Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota and Virginia -- that do not have them in place.

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