Leroy E. Felt
Leroy E. Felt ()

An Okeechobee County jury returned an $11.1 million verdict against an Eagles Lodge that served too much alcohol to a patron who drove off and collided with a motorcyclist.

Lead plaintiffs attorney Neil Anthony of Steinger, Iscoe & Greene in West Palm Beach represented Rodney Wilde, the injured motorcyclist, and his wife, Charlotte Wilde.

Anthony said the bar staff—four volunteer bartenders who worked for tips—at the Okeechobee Aerie 4137, Fraternal Order of Eagles Inc. grossly overserved Leroy E. Felt beyond the point of severe intoxication.

“There was evidence in the case that he drank there from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., just 20 minutes or so before the crash,” Anthony said. “He was falling off the bar stool drunk.”

The jury was told the lodge staff watched Felt stumble out the front door alone. He got in his pickup and struck the motorcyclist while pulling out of the club’s driveway on U.S. Highway 441.

A trauma helicopter flew Rodney Wilde to a Fort Pierce hospital for treatment of a severe closed head injury and multiple fractures.

Felt was charged for leaving the scene of an accident with injury and drunken driving with serious bodily injury. He was convicted, was sentenced to five years in prison and is set for release late next year.

Felt, 72, had no insurance and no assets, Anthony said.

He was arrested about an hour after the crash on the night of March 19, 2010. Paramedics did not draw blood until two hours after the accident. Even then, Felt had a blood alcohol content of 0.22, Anthony said.

Wilde, 56 at the time of the collision, was a generator technician. He was left with permanent double vision, an imbalance disorder and cognitive deficits that include delayed processing speed. He is permanently disabled, and his wife suffers caretaker burnout, Anthony said.

Anthony said testimony showed Felt, a past president of the lodge, had a history of intoxication.

On May 16, the jury submitted a verdict stating the club knew or should have known Felt was addicted to alcohol and the club was negligent in serving alcohol leading to harm. The jury also decided Wilde had no share of the liability.

Okeechobee Circuit Judge Gary Sweet struck a defense attempt to include Felt as a Fabre defendant, finding it was improper due to the derivative nature of the club’s liability, Anthony said.

Defense attorney Jerome W. Webb of Lydecker Diaz in Orlando argued to the jury that Felt was not an alcoholic and showed no signs in the club that he was. The defense also argued Wilde made a full recovery and there were unexplained findings on the neuropsychology examination, which suggested a lack of effort and malingering.

The jury awarded $720,307 for past medical expenses and $2 million for future medical costs; $7 million for non-economic damages; $620,262 for past and future lost wages; and $825,000 for the spouse’s loss of consortium.

“This was a very hard-fought case by both sides,” Anthony said. “And the good guys won. The defendant chose reckless consumption over safety, and the jury held them responsible for it.”