Nicole Dzienis v. Pig’s Eye Pub: A young woman who was left partially paralyzed following a car crash was unable to win a lawsuit against a bar that served alcohol to her underage friend, who was driving.
The plaintiff, Nicole Dzienis, sought $14 million in damages from the Pig’s Eye Pub in Hartford. But a jury decided that the bar was not at fault for her severe injuries. However, those with knowledge of the case said Dzienis still collected more than $1 million in settlements from other parties.
On the evening of Aug. 8, 2007, Dzienis, now 26, and her friend, Lindsay Duhaine, went to an art show in West Hartford and then to a restaurant and bar called the Elbow Room, which is also in West Hartford.
From there, the pair met up with another friend, Madeline Pinches, to go to the Pig’s Eye Pub in downtown Hartford. When the trio arrived at the Asylum Street establishment, Dzienis felt sick to her stomach and opted to remain in the car while her friends went inside.
A lawyer for the Pig’s Eye Pub, Jan Trendowski of Trendowski & Allen in Centerbrook, said Dzienis had eaten fettuccine alfredo at the Elbow Room and washed it down with “Irish car bombs”—a cocktail containing Guinness stout, Bailey’s Irish Cream and Jameson Irish Whiskey.
Trendowski noted that Duhaine, who was driving that night, used the valid driver’s license of someone who looked like her to gain entrance into the Pig’s Eye, as she was still a few weeks shy of her 21st birthday. At the bar, Duhaine had three or four more drinks over the course of a couple hours. Eventually, Pinches, Duhaine and her boyfriend left the bar and got back into the car to head home.
At about 1 a.m., Duhaine was involved in a collision on Cedar Street in Newington. Trendowski said that a car had stopped suddenly in a line of traffic because the young driver, who had been texting, dropped her cellphone onto the car floor. The next car in the line of traffic noticed the sudden stop and was able to avoid a collision. But Duhaine, who was also texting while driving, smashed into the rear of the second vehicle at 40 mph to 50 mph, according to Trendowski.
Dzienis was thrown into the dashboard upon impact. She was rushed to the hospital and doctors discovered that she had shattered three vertebrae in her neck. Over time, said Trendowski, she has regained some use of her left arm, but has no use of the right arm and is without any feeling from the chest down.
“She actually trained herself to walk although she can’t feel her legs,” said Trendowski. “It’s stiff-legged but she can actually walk. It’s incredible what she’s able to do.”
Dzienis had worked as a graphic designer before the accident. She is now permanently disabled and will require medical assistance for the remainder of her life.
Dzienis hired attorney Edward Case of Gerace & Associates in Hartford. Case did not return messages for comment last week.
Dzienis sued the Pig’s Eye Pub and the Elbow Room, the drivers of the other two vehicles and Duhaine.
The Elbow Room filed a successful motion for summary judgment, arguing that any alcohol Duhaine might have consumed there would have left her system by the time the accident occurred later that night.
Settlements were reached with drivers of the vehicles, including Duhaine, without the formal filing of lawsuits. Duhaine, who died before the settlement, was killed in an accident in Middletown when she was again texting while driving, crossed the center line and smashed into another car head-on.
In the lawsuit filed by Dzienis against the Pig’s Eye Pub and its owner, William Morrissey, she alleged a Dram Shop violation for serving an already-intoxicated Duhaine, as well as a claim for negligent sale of alcohol to a minor. While the state’s Dram Shop statute caps damages at $250,000, there is no damage cap for negligent sale of alcohol to a minor.
Dzienis’ lawyer, Case, claimed her past medical costs were $477,381 and her lost earning capacity was an estimated $1.87 million. Before trial, the plaintiff sought to settle for $900,000.
Trendowski, who represented Indemnity Insurance Co., which insured the Pig’s Eye Pub, made no settlement offers and opted to go to trial.
Evidence presentation lasted five days before Judge Joseph Shortall in New Britain Superior Court. Case asked the jury for $14 million in damages, according to Trendowski.
In presenting his defense, Trendowski argued that the Pig’s Eye Pub made reasonable efforts to prevent minors from entering the premises. Morrissey, the bar’s owner, testified to those efforts. He presented the bar’s “door kit,” a steel box containing materials such as photos of proper IDs and confiscated fake IDs, to help employees identify the fakes. Trendowski said the confiscated IDs showed the jury the high quality of what is available over the Internet.
Trendowski said the owner testified about how his security personnel did not use a bar code reader to determine what was a valid driver’s license. The owner explained that a would-be customer presenting a valid license belonging to another person would still be able to get in. The owner testified that he wanted his security personnel to actually scrutinize the faces of the people trying to get in, as well as the ID they were using.
“The owner presented extremely well and had the goods to back up his testimony,” Trendowski said.
After deliberating for four hours, the four-male, two-female jury came back with a defense verdict. Trendowski noted that it was not an easy case for the plaintiff to win, considering that police did not take a blood-alcohol content reading for Duhaine.
Officers did not think Duhaine showed signs of intoxication at the accident scene, Trendowski said.
Also, Duhaine’s friends testified that when she was drinking, she acted more outgoing than normal but she may not have seemed drunk to someone serving her at the bar who did not know her.•