Local News

Widow: 'They were sober enough to know better'

Posted March 23, 2009
Updated March 24, 2009

— A Durham woman says she believes the bar that served a drunk driver was partly responsible for her husband's death, even though the state Supreme Court doesn't support her legal claim.

After drunken driver William Terry left Torero's II Mexican restaurant in Durham on Dec. 3, 1997, he hit a car in which Theresa Hall was riding, authorities said. Her 39-year-old husband, Michael, was killed in the crash.

"He was my heart and my soul. He was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with,” Theresa Hall told WRAL News Monday.

Terry served six months in jail, but Theresa Hall's attorneys said the restaurant should be held liable for her husband's death.

"They (bar servers) were sober enough to know better,” Theresa Hall said.

Theresa Hall sued for negligence and was awarded more than $1.2 million in 2004, but a judge set aside the verdict and the award. The state Court of Appeals affirmed the judge's ruling, citing past court decisions that found forcing servers to evaluate every customer's behavior would be "unjustifiably burdensome" to business.

On Friday, a divided vote by the Supreme Court, 3-3, left the Court of Appeals ruling in place.

"I feel like the judicial system has slapped me in the face and said, 'His death doesn't matter,'” Theresa Hall said.

She was injured in the wreck and still walks with a cane, and she said she would take her cause to lawmakers. She wants to make legislation on the liability of bars clearer in memory of her husband.

"I'd tell him (Michael) that I am sorry and that I fought with everything I had,” she said.

By law, North Carolina bars and restaurants are liable if they knowingly serve a drunk who goes on to hurt someone. Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said bars should also take reasonable steps to keep drunken customers from driving.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • commandokidd Mar 26, 2009

    Incensed ""Why should a bar, convenience store or any place that sells alcohol be responsible for the actions of a drunk. It is up to the person to take that responsibility for themselves. I don't see any difference in a person using a gun, a knife, or an automobile in taking another person's life.


  • yillrekrap Mar 25, 2009

    The question is: Is the court allowing the law to be enforced.That answer is no.What is the reason the law is not being enforced?We must not underestimate the power of money on our elected court officials.The alcohol industry's money in the State of North Carolina is more powerful than the gift of human life.

  • her3me24 Mar 25, 2009

    to TheAdmiral:

    So what you are saying is that it is ok for these businesses to profit and not have any responsibility?

    Of course they have a burden of responsibility. It is not up to me to tell them how to run their bar but if they knowingling allow someone to leave their establishment drunk as all get out and that person drives off and kills someone, then yes, they are just as responsible.

  • her3me24 Mar 25, 2009

    What most people miss here (going off of your responses) is that you were sober when you chose to start drinking in the first place...you had no plans to get home without endangering others. If you make the choice to go out and drink and not have a way home without driving then you made the sober choice to do it in the first place...Anyone who kills someone with the car and is proven to be negligent should spend time in jail.

    ....what about the family that they destroyed by drinking in and driving and killing in the first place? We always tend to forget the victim and focus on the criminal...

  • whatusay Mar 25, 2009

    Suppose a person leaves a bar after drinking only 2-3 drinks, but then goes to another bar and drinks 2-3 more. Which bar is responsible? Neither, the drunk is responsible.

  • braddyg Mar 24, 2009


    So you believe that people make mistakes, but that we should destroy their lives because of it? I'm not sure that I agree with a murder charge for a drunk driver who kills, but I certainly believe they should be in jail for a lot longer than they are - but for those who are first offenders and don't cause any bodily harm or property damage? You do realize that once you do that, they'll then become dependent on government assistance because they can't get a job and therefore can't afford to buy food or basic needs.

  • braddyg Mar 24, 2009


    My comments weren't entirely directed at your particular case, with the exception that I disagree with the bars being held liable. In your case, I believe that Mr. Terry deserved much more than 6 months jail time and I truly am sorry for your loss.

    I was trying to address those who have been advocating that anyone who is charged with drunk driving should be subjected to harsher penalties. While I would wholeheartedly agree if we had a foolproof way to determine impairment, I don't think that's right under the current system.

  • Rocknhorse Mar 24, 2009

    As hard (and unpallatable) as it is to think, sometimes people do make mistakes. I think that first time offenders (when no one is injured) SHOULD received jail time; hefty fine; mandatory substance abuse counseling; loss of license with no provisional for a mandated period of time (2 yr probation minimum) and reissuance only after appearing in front of a DMV board for review and repetition of driver's education again; intensive probation (2 yr min) during which time, they will be visited periodically/randomly by a probation officer and required to give blood for BAC testing. Should they have any alcohol in their system during their probation, they would spend the balance of that probation in prison; public service in some field where they must assist victims of drunk driving and/or morgue work.

    If someone is injured and/or there is loss of life, I feel the punishment should be equal to assault with deadly weapon or 2nd degree murder.

    2nd offense, lock them up and lose key.

  • Rocknhorse Mar 24, 2009


    My concern would be that by creating a law holding the restaurant liable, you are actually taking an amount of responsibility AWAY from the drunk. Suppose, according to the proposed law, that a person leaves a bar, apparently fine, but they cause a wreck (they are NOT accidents). Rather than take responsibility, that person could say, "Well, I'd been drinking at Club X and they didn't stop me from driving. If I was this drunk, they should have stopped me." There are parasitic lawyers who would chomp on any opportunity to prove their clients not guilty based on any scapegoat they could find.

    I stand behind every effort to make DUI/DWI more strictly punishible and I agree that when death occurs it should be treated as murder. It IS, in my opinion. But I think absolving the drunk from full responsibility will allow more to go free or receive a lesser punishment as the businesses are pursued.

  • Rocknhorse Mar 24, 2009

    supernik, I understand your pain and I sympathize with it. My heart goes out to you, your mother and family and friends. I whole-heartedly applaud any and all efforts to try and curb drunk driving (unfortunately, no matter what, I don't think it will ever end).

    I think where I see problems with holding the bars/restaurants liable is that there are so many scenarios where it can be impossible to monitor. At a bar setting, I can go to the bar and buy drinks for the table. My husband may go next time and buy. The staff have no way of keeping count over the number I may drink. How could they then be liable for my actions. When people drink, it takes time for the alcohol to enter the blood stream and cause impairment. Sometimes it's readily visible, but sometimes a person can leave and be driving when it hits.