The family of a 7-year-old girl who was killed by a drunken driver has reached a $15.6 million settlement with the driver’s insurer and the Hofbrauhaus restaurant in Pittsburgh, where the driver had been served just prior to the accident.
According to the settlement agreement filed May 8 in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, the bulk of the money — $15.5 million — will be paid by Hofbrauhaus. The insurer of the driver, Travis Isiminger, will contribute an additional $100,000 to the settlement, according to plaintiffs counsel Jack Goodrich of Goodrich & Associates in Pittsburgh.
Hofbrauhaus has also agreed as part of the settlement to implement a number of policy changes, including requiring employees to undergo Responsible Alcohol Management Program (RAMP) training and serving water to patrons to slow down their alcohol consumption, according to the settlement agreement.
Goodrich said he thought the inclusion of such policy changes in a settlement agreement was unprecedented for a Pennsylvania dram shop case.
In Cleland v. Isiminger, according to the plaintiffs’ pretrial statement, Isiminger was served five liters of beer and consumed several shots at Hofbrauhaus on December 4, 2010.
Isiminger was eventually escorted by security out of Hofbrauhaus after vomiting on a table, the plaintiffs’ pretrial statement said.
Isiminger then got in his car and began driving. Isiminger crossed over the center line on Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood and collided with plaintiff Nicole Cleland’s vehicle, according to the plaintiffs’ pretrial statement.
Cleland’s 7-year-old daughter, Lexa Cleland, who was seated in the backseat with her 11-month-old sister, Kathleen Cleland, was killed in the crash, the plaintiffs’ pretrial statement said.
In addition to several rib and pelvic fractures, Nicole Cleland, who was six to eight weeks pregnant at the time, also suffered a miscarriage, according to the complaint.
Kathleen, meanwhile, suffered "generalized trauma to her entire person," according to the complaint.
The complaint said Isiminger’s blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit at the time of the crash.
According to the plaintiffs’ pretrial statement, Isiminger pled guilty to 13 criminal charges, including vehicular homicide while driving under the influence.
In his own pretrial statement, Isiminger admitted liability.
The plaintiffs had argued in their complaint that Hofbrauhaus violated the Pennsylvania Dram Shop Act by continuing to serve Isiminger after he became visibly intoxicated and for failing to arrange for alternate transportation for him when he left the restaurant.
The plaintiffs said in their pretrial statement that the only Hofbrauhaus employees who underwent any training on how to spot visibly intoxicated customers were bartenders and servers hired by the restaurant in March 2009.
The plaintiffs also alleged in their pretrial statement that none of the security personnel Hofbrauhaus used on Fridays or Saturdays — the restaurant’s busiest nights — were trained as to how to identify and handle visibly intoxicated patrons.
But Hofbrauhaus argued in its own pretrial statement that Isiminger was never served while visibly intoxicated.
Hofbrauhaus further maintained in its pretrial statement that a friend who accompanied Isiminger outside had assured restaurant staff and security that Isiminger’s cousin was coming to pick Isiminger up.
The friend also assured staff that he would wait with Isiminger until his cousin arrived, according to Hofbrauhaus’ pretrial statement.
Instead, however, the friend went back inside after 10 minutes, at which point Isiminger walked to his own car and proceeded to drive away, Hofbrauhaus said in its pretrial statement.
Under the settlement agreement, Cleland will receive $8.9 million and her husband, Mark Cleland, will receive $500,000. In addition, $2.1 million will go to Lexa’s estate and a little over $4 million will go toward attorney fees and costs, according to Goodrich.
In addition to hiring a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board trainer to assist its staff in obtaining RAMP certifications, Hofbrauhaus also agreed, among other policy changes, to begin serving water to patrons to slow their alcohol consumption as well as serving complimentary light fare to visibly intoxicated patrons who are not eating and complimentary non-alcoholic beverages to designated drivers, according to the settlement agreement.
The settlement agreement also requires Hofbrauhaus to develop a procedure through which management and security personnel will arrange and, if necessary, pay for safe transportation for intoxicated guests.
Goodrich said "accountability" was the number-one goal of the settlement agreement.
"It was important that we attempt to implement changes in the service industry," Goodrich said.
Counsel for Hofbrauhaus, David M. McQuiston of Thomson, Rhodes & Cowie in Pittsburgh, could not be reached for comment.
Counsel for Isiminger, Thomas A. McDonnell of Summers, McDonnell, Hudock, Guthrie & Skeel, also could not be reached.