After winning a $1.7 million verdict against a restaurant and a drunken driver who killed their unborn child, a Charlotte couple expressed hope Thursday that the award will change the way bars and restaurants deal with intoxicated customers.
Authorities say David Canter Huffman had a blood-alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit on Oct. 29, 2010, as he sped in his Volvo at more than 100 mph from Eddies Place Restaurant and Bar in south Charlotte.
Huffman, 25, crossed the center line and crashed into Matt and Meredith Eastridges Toyota RAV4. Huffman died. Meredith Eastridge was six months pregnant; the couples unborn son died, and they both were seriously injured.
They still bear the scars of the collision, though Meredith Eastridge since has given birth to a daughter, Sloane, who is 5 months old.
Matt Eastridge said he was appalled and disgusted to learn that Huffman had been served so much alcohol. I felt anger and sadness for my son, he said. Innocent people were hurting because of a few peoples poor decisions. It really upset me that you could serve someone the equivalent of 15 drinks in two hours and think that theyre OK.
Rick Pinto, an attorney for Eddies Place, said an investigation by the Mecklenburg Alcoholic Beverage Control Board found that the restaurant had not served alcohol to Huffman after he had become visibly intoxicated. The board also concluded the restaurant had not violated any state rules or regulations.
Pinto said the owners at Eddies Place always have attempted to comply with ABC rules and regulations, including training staff to ensure they dont serve anyone who looks intoxicated or is underage. The company is responsible, has been responsible and will continue to be responsible and comply with the law, Pinto said.
But the Eastridges lawyer, Charles Monnett, said the restaurant was at fault the moment it overserved Huffman. A Mecklenburg jury agreed, and on Tuesday awarded the couple $1.7 million.
Huffman, who had just gotten off from work at a SouthPark-area restaurant, was a regular at Eddies Place. On a video shown in court, he can be seen toasting with the restaurants manager, who was celebrating his 30th birthday.
Video also showed him walking into a chair. The restaurant said he had been served at least eight drinks. But Eastridges attorney said he was served the equivalent of 15 drinks.
Pinto said restaurant employees made arrangements to have Huffman ride home with someone who lived at his apartment complex. Meanwhile, Huffman asked for an additional drink but the bartender didnt serve it. He was never served after he was visibly intoxicated, Pinto said.
After exiting the restaurant, Huffman walked toward his own car instead of leaving with the people who had arranged a ride for him.
The wreck occurred minutes later on Providence Road near Strawberry Hill Drive around 12:30 a.m.
Monnett said North Carolinas so-called dram shop law allows injured people to sue stores, bars and restaurants that sell alcohol to an underage person or someone noticeably intoxicated.
The law until about 30 years ago basically didnt permit you to sue the bar. It was basically that people had free will, and it was their choice to drink, Monnett said Thursday. It has evolved to the point where in North Carolina, if you serve an individual who was intoxicated and you know or should know that theyll be driving shortly thereafter, then youre responsible.
On the night of the crash, Matt Eastridge had gone to Time Warner Cable Arena to get the autograph of Larry Bird, who was traveling with the Indiana Pacers.
But he left his wallet in the car at a parking lot near the arena. When he came out, he found his car was towed.
Around midnight, he and his wife got in their RAV4 and headed to the towing companys parking lot.
I was going 33 mph, Matt Eastridge said. I just saw headlights. My wife said, What the heck is that? The car just hit us so quickly.
The force of the crash flipped the RAV4 and knocked it back 25 feet. The Eastridges spent months in the hospital, undergoing emergency surgeries, then relearning how to do basic tasks.
I had to learn how to walk, he said. We were both in wheelchairs for Christmas. I couldnt brush my teeth. I couldnt take a bath. You cant sneeze. It was at the point where we couldnt cry it hurt so much in our abs, we couldnt cry.
The most pain, he said, was in the hospital, when they learned they had lost their son.
My wife and I would give every dollar we got, and everything else we owned to be able to spend one day with our son, Matt Eastridge said.
Staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.