Jury returns $28 million verdict to victims of deadly car crash
An Allegheny County jury on Friday awarded the victims of a deadly car accident more than $28 million, sending “an important statement about alcohol safety,” one attorney said.
Jessica Trail, 24, died on Sept. 26, 2009, when the car in which she was riding was struck head-on by another vehicle on Mifflin Road in Lincoln Place. Her boyfriend, Bill Grice, suffered severe injuries and died seven months later from an overdose of pain medication.
The driver of the other car, Timothy Lesko, 26, of Munhall, pleaded guilty to drunken driving in 2012 and is serving a two- to four-year sentence at the state prison in Woods Run.
Lesko had attended a gun bash at the Pittsburgh Elks Lodge No. 11 in West Mifflin that day, paying $25 for unlimited food and beer along with raffle chances to win guns. Lesko's blood-alcohol content was 0.226, nearly three times the state's 0.08 legal limit, police said.
Trail and Grice's families and two others who survived the accident sued Lesko and the Elks lodge. They claimed Lesko was negligent for driving at a high speed and driving drunk, and they blamed the lodge for allowing him to consume too much alcohol.
John Gismondi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said self-serve kegs of beer outside the banquet hall were “a disaster waiting to happen.”
The club should have had people watching the kegs and making sure people were not too drunk to drive, he said.
The award, Gismondi said, “was an important statement about alcohol safety, and I hope the message goes out to every social club, such as the Elks, that they need to clean up their act.”
The jury said Lesko was 60 percent responsible for the crash, and the Elks club was 40 percent responsible. Jurors awarded $7 million to Trail's family, $8.3 million to Grice's family, lesser amounts to other victims and $10 million in punitive damages split among the plaintiffs.
None of the survivors or the Trail or Grice families returned calls.
Arlene Pauly, secretary of Elks Lodge No. 11, said she didn't know anything about the decision and referred calls to attorney Jim Young, who represented the lodge.
“We're still looking it over for purposes of possible appeal,” Young said.
Driver Amanda Delval recalled the accident while testifying at trial. She said they were on their way home from a wedding in Munhall when they saw Lesko's vehicle coming around a bend.
Delval said Trail, who was in the front passenger seat next to her, said, “Oh my God,” before the car hit theirs. Delval said she couldn't get out of the car by herself after the crash.
“My feet were shoved up underneath the dashboard,” she said.
Gismondi said he suspects other bars and social clubs in the area don't pay attention to how much alcohol their members drink and “need to get the message.”
“I think that's what the jury was saying,” he said.
In May, Mark and Nicole Cleland of South Park reached a $15.6 million settlement with Hofbrauhaus restaurant and bar when Travis Isiminger, 26, of Greene County consumed the equivalent of a case of beer on Dec. 4, 2010, got into his car and plowed head-on into the couple's car, killing their 7-year-old daughter, Lexa. Eight weeks pregnant, Nicole Cleland suffered a miscarriage.
In June, West View police Chief Bruce Fromlak sued the owner of Billy's Roadhouse in McCandless, where his son drank for seven hours before dying in a car crash.
The lawsuit contends the bartender continued to serve a visibly drunken Jeffery Fromlak, 26, and allowed him to walk to his car and drive away. He died when his car hit a concrete abutment on McKnight Road and flipped over. That case is pending.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Not to be left behind, speedy Steelers are on the fast track in NFL
- Rossi: Steelers will make small strides this season
- Starkey: Bucs still battlin’
- Steelers have plenty of new faces at wide receiver
- The IRS scandal: Do the Lois Lerner emails still exist?
- Monroeville firefighters hope hot photo calendar will help raise money
- WPIAL coaches, QBs have concerns about using newly-approved footballs
- Poll: Parents uncomfortable with youth football
- Arizona Uzi shooting that accidentally killed instructor ‘just stupid’
- Why Steelers will — or won’t — snap out of their funk
- Penguins GM insists new coach Johnston was no afterthought