At 4:15 pm Monday, Steinger, Iscoe & Greene achieved a giant victory in a small town—and made a lasting difference in the life of a local victim. That was the moment that a jury awarded $11.1 million to a local man who was nearly killed by a drunk driver.
Four years ago, Rodney Wilde was out riding his motorcycle in Okeechobee County. He was sober, attentive and wearing the proper safety equipment. But he was unable to avoid the swerving, speeding vehicle of Leroy Felt—who, unknown to him, had just finished up an all-day bender and was almost too incapacitated to drive.
When Felt struck Wilde’s bike, he made no effort to pull over or slow down. Horrifically, Wilde was caught underneath Felt’s car, pulled from his bike and dragged along the highway for some 200 feet before he came free. Felt still didn’t stop, speeding off into the distance and effectively leaving Wilde for dead.
Wilde did not die, although his wife Charlotte Wilde says that at times he wished he had. Thankfully he was found and rushed to an emergency room, suffering from massive brain injuries, internal wounds, and broken bones. He will never completely recover from these injuries and even today he has trouble walking.
When someone comes to Steinger, Iscoe & Greene with a case like this, our job is to help them receive compensation for their injuries. That’s exactly what we did for the Wildes. The $11 million they won will help pay for extensive medical bills, provide physical therapy for Rodney Wilde, and make up for his inability to work.
But this wasn’t a simple case. That’s because a little investigation showed there were actually two parties responsible for the accident—Felt, and the bar that knowingly served him past the point of drunkenness.
Felt had apparently spent the entire day before the accident in a local Eagles Lodge, where he was a member and a well-known alcoholic. He was served continuously for up to 11 straight hours, and even though it was clear to the establishment that he planned on driving home, they never cut him off. This is an act of tremendous negligence.
Steinger, Iscoe & Greene began proceedings against the Eagles Lodge, aiming to hold them accountable for their failure to exercise the most basic responsibility a bar has: not serving drunk people.
The trial wasn’t easy. Usually in cases like this, the defendant will offer to settle for a reasonable amount, but the Eagles Lodge chose to fight it out in court. And in a small town, juries are often reluctant to decide against a local institution like the Lodge. But the gruesomeness of the injuries and the Felt’s cold-hearted behavior had an impact. And with eye witnesses in the bar, there was no doubt how drunk Felt was as the staff kept serving him drinks.
When the police caught Felt after the accident, his blood alcohol level was .221—nearly three times the legal limit. And that extreme level of intoxication clearly made the accident worse. Had Felt been sober, not only could the entire accident have been avoided, but he would likely have stopped once he hit Wilde. It was the high-speed dragging along the highway that ultimately took the accident from an emergency situation to a lifelong tragedy.
Felt has been sentenced to five years in prison, which is in line with new, tougher penalties for hit and run drivers that are about to be passed into law. But there are no serious criminal consequences for bars who over-serve their customers, and that has to change.
In the United State, we don’t allow gun stores to sell firearms to violent criminals. We don’t allow pharmacies to sell Sudafed in quantities that can be used to make illegal drugs. But for some reason we do allow bartenders to hand drink after drink to a driver with keys in hand—and get away with it.
Following this courtroom victory, Steinger, Iscoe & Greene is fighting for new legislation that will hold bars and bartenders accountable for over-serving patrons who are likely to drink and drive. We believe this legislation is long overdue, and the jury decision shows that people understand why it’s necessary. Our firm expects to reach out to Mothers Against Drunk Driving to form a coalition to work toward these new laws.
There’s no question that Leroy Felt was the one who got behind the wheel and destroyed a life. In an ideal world, he should never have driven drunk. But we can’t always count on alcoholics to make the right choices or think about consequences. And if his local bar had been required to cut him off, Rodney Wilde might be walking without a cane today.
That’s why Steinger, Iscoe & Greene won’t rest until the law prevents more tragedies like this one.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a reckless driver, please contact one of our experienced injury lawyers today.