By Joyce Hanson
March 14, 2018
A truck driver who became completely disabled and whose wife died in a drunken driving crash won a $37.5 million judgment Tuesday in Illinois state court in a dram shop lawsuit against the strip club that served the drunken driver, the man’s lawyers said.
Judge Vincent Lopinot, an Illinois circuit court judge in St. Clair County, handed the $37.5 million award to plaintiff Lucas Williams for the death of his wife and to compensate him for his own complete disability due to the “horrific” drunken driving crash that took place in November 2010, according to Williams’ lawyer, Mark Avera.
The judge’s award following a bench trial went against Deja Vu Showgirls, a St. Louis strip club now doing business as Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, in the suit that was litigated as a dram shop case, according to court filings.
Dram shop laws allow suits against clubs, restaurants, retailers and hospitality businesses for over-serving people who then cause drunken-driving accidents. In the Williamses’ case, the Illinois Dram Shop Act provided for the plaintiff to seek recovery of damages from the seller of the alcohol.
“This was a tragic event that destroyed and changed lives forever,” Avera said in a statement. “It’s a stark reminder of the dangers of drinking and driving.”
Tuesday’s verdict arose from a Nov. 17, 2010, collision on Interstate 64 that occurred in Illinois, east of St. Louis. According to the complaint filed a year later, Lucas Williams and his wife, Jessica, were driving as an “over-the-road” team for trucking company Celadon Group Inc. when drunken driver Robert W. Casares crashed into them.
The Williamses were traveling during the pre-dawn hours when Casares drove east in the westbound lanes and hit their truck head on, causing the truck to careen into a steep ravine in the highway median, Williams alleged. Casares had become intoxicated at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club just before he headed out on the highway, the complaint said.
The truck turned on its side and caught fire, and the husband-and-wife team rushed to escape the cab, but Jessica Williams didn’t make it and died in the crash, according to the suit. Lucas Williams did survive, but he suffered severe burns over half of his body and was hospitalized for six months.
“He has permanent injuries as a result of the crash, including being totally disabled and unable to return to trucking,” according to a statement from Lucas Williams’ lawyers. “The verdict includes damages for Jessica’s wrongful death and Mr. Williams’ personal injury claim.
Legal counsel for Williams did not respond immediately Wednesday to requests for further comment.
Larry Flynt’s Hustler’s Club did not respond immediately to a request for comment.