The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday affirmed a $15 million verdict against a Bessemer convenience store and its owner for selling alcohol to an underage driver that led to a 2007 crash that killed a 13-year-old boy and injured three others.
Seven of the justices affirmed the verdict against Nineteenth Street Investments Inc. with no opinion. Chief Justice Roy Moore dissented, also with no written opinion. And one justice was not involved in the decision.
A jury in 2013 had found against Nineteenth Street Investments, former owners of the 14th Street BP in Bessemer. Four lawsuits, which had been filed by the families of the teens, were consolidated into one case for trial.
Sharon Robertson, the mother of 13-year-old Drew Robertson who was killed in the crash, was awarded damages of $7 million. Another passenger was awarded $750,000 in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages. Another teen passenger was awarded $3.9 million in compensatory and punitive damages. And the mother of the driver of the car was awarded $500,000 in punitive damages.
“I spoke this morning with Sharon (Robertson), and she is deeply gratified that the Court honored the jury’s verdict and let it stand. She hopes that this will help to send the message to unscrupulous alcohol vendors that our courts will not tolerate sales to minors,” said Robertson’s attorney, Pat Lavette.
An attorney for Nineteenth Street Investments and the store’s owner has not responded to a request for comment.
The lawsuits were filed under Alabama’s Dram Shop Act, which allows lawsuits to be filed against stores or restaurants that sell alcohol to minors that result in injuries or damages. According to court documents the crash happened May 2, 2007, on Eastern Valley Road in Tuscaloosa County.
The jury found that the convenience store owned by The Nineteenth Street Investments, Inc., had sold the alcohol to the teen driver, who at the time was under the age of 21.
The convenience store is no longer owned by The Nineteenth Street Investments.
Bruce McKee, one of the attorneys at the firm Hare Wynn Newell and Newton who represented the teen who was awarded $3.75 million, said the Alabama Supreme Court’s verdict means the jury verdict and the judgment of the trial court, which did not reduce or alter the verdict, is affirmed in its entirety. All four cases were consolidated and tried before one jury in one trial, he noted.
Hare Wynn attorney Ashley Peinhardt also represented the teen and with Lavette argued the cases before the Alabama Supreme Court.
Nineteenth Street Investments has 14 days to apply for rehearing, McKee said. “But when the decision is affirmed without opinion, it is highly unlikely the Court will change its mind,” he said.
The issue now is collecting the money from the owner, Ibrahim Sabbah and his companies, McKee said.
Sabbah has filed a lawsuit against his insurer, Nationwide, for Nationwide’s failure to settle the case within policy limits and seeking to make Nationwide pay the full judgments on his behalf, McKee said.