Two bars settle for $6.6M in DUI case

Plaintiff became quadriplegic after crashing into a tree while intoxicated

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Two Northeastern Pennsylvania bars have settled for a combined $6.6 million with a man who became quadriplegic after driving drunk and crashing his car into a tree.

Plaintiff Jason Mercado settled for $5.65 million with Pub 570 of East Stroudsburg, Pa., and for $950,000 with Sticks N Stones Bar & Grill of East Stroudsburg, Monroe County, his attorney announced last week.

The settlement resolved the federal action Mr. Mercado filed in Mercado v. Prime 570 against the two bars in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. He drank at both just before his 2010 accident -- and even though he drove drunk, Mr. Mercado alleged that he was in such a state because bartenders provided him with several free drinks and shots.

According to Mr. Mercado's settlement memorandum, the owners of both bars had told the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board when applying for a liquor license that they would be managing the bars.

But Mr. Mercado, now 36, alleged neither owner was at their establishment when Mr. Mercado was drinking at their bars and, instead, allegedly inexperienced bartenders and staff were running the operations.

Robert W. Sink of the Law Offices of Robert W. Sink in Philadelphia represented Mr. Mercado. In his settlement agreement, Mr. Sink noted a jury could return a verdict in excess of $50 million.

At mediation, Mr. Sink initially sought the parties' total policy limits of $12 million. Defendant Prime 570 Inc., the parent company of Pub 570, had $1 million in primary coverage and $10 million in excess coverage. Sticks N Stones had $1 million in coverage.

But representing the drunken driver made the case a difficult one to try, he said.

"And if the jury found the drunk driver was more than 50 percent at fault, then he would have gotten nothing. So there was a substantial risk of going to trial based on that alone," Mr. Sink said.

After attorney fees, costs and payouts for Medicare, Medicaid and insurance company liens, Mr. Mercado is netting about $3.2 million, Mr. Sink said. The plaintiff, who lives alone in an apartment in New York, requires round-the-clock care, including assistance with eating, dressing and going to the bathroom, according to the settlement memorandum.

He also has continuous pain in his arms and legs despite not being able to use them, the court papers said.

The settlement was reached after a one-day mediation with Thomas Helbig in Scranton, Pa., in September. The agreement was signed in late October and the final payout was made just recently, Sink said.

According to the settlement memorandum, Mr. Mercado was playing on Pub 570's softball team May 2, 2010. He and his teammates had a few beers during the games and at a barbecue afterward. They then went to Pub 570, where the bartender, who was friends with Mr. Mercado, gave him free drinks and served him and his friends several beers and shots, according to court documents.

A hostess and another bartender testified Mr. Mercado appeared drunk.

Mr. Mercado allegedly told the bartender that he wanted to switch to seltzer water, but the bartender allegedly responded that it was OK to keep drinking, because she would drive Mr. Mercado home after her shift ended.

The two later drove to Sticks N Stones. Mr. Mercado was visibly intoxicated, according to court documents, but he was served another one or two beers anyway.

After falling asleep on a bench at Sticks N Stones, Mr. Mercado awoke and couldn't find his friends. Around 9 p.m., he found his keys laying on a table and started to drive home. He soon crashed his Jeep into a tree, fracturing his neck, according to court filings.

According to Mr. Sink, the defense's main arguments were that Mr. Mercado chose to drink in excess and then chose to drive. He said Pub 570 also argued that Mr. Mercado was not visibly intoxicated while at the first bar.

Mr. Mercado's lifetime medical care costs are estimated to be about $34 million.


Gina Passarella: gpassarella@alm.com or 215-557-2494. Read more stories like this at www.legalintelligencer.com.

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