$3M settlement awarded in drunk driver lawsuit

By Kyla Asbury | May 27, 2011


CHARLESTON – A lawsuit involving a drunk driver who struck a pedestrian with her vehicle was settled out of court on April 18.

The drunk driver, Melissa Newman; Loyal Order of Moose a/k/a Charleston Moose Lodge; 1251, LLC, d/b/a Impulse Nightclub; and Great American Insurance Company, were the defendants in the suit.

On June 7, 2008, Billy J. Berkhouse was a pedestrian waking on Capitol Street in Charleston when he was struck by a vehicle being driven by Newman, according to an amended complaint filed March 16 in Kanawha Circuit Court.

Berkhouse suffered severe head trauma and was in a coma for an extended period of time.

Charleston Moose Lodge had over-served Newman alcohol, according to the complaint. When she arrived at the Impulse Nightclub in Charleston, she was not severed alcohol because she was already intoxicated.

Previously, Newman was the only one held responsible, and not the business that over-served her alcohol, according to the suit.

The court approved the settlement of $2.9 million, which is the $3 million policy limits, minus defense costs at the time of the settlement.

Charleston attorney Bobby Warner said he believes the case is very important because the goal is always to improve safety in the community.

"By the defendants paying the $3 million in damages, they are acknowledging that they were over-serving alcohol," Warner said. "You don't have a right to serve alcohol in West Virginia. It is a privilege, and in this case, they broke the rules by over-serving alcohol. My hope is that the bars and nightclubs see that if they break the rules, they will be held responsible."

The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Louis H. Bloom.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 09-C-542

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