Local News

Widow: 'They were sober enough to know better'

Posted March 23, 2009 11:15 p.m. EDT
Updated March 24, 2009 5:33 p.m. EDT

— 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.