A Bessemer jury has awarded more than $15 million in damages in a verdict for the plaintiffs as a result of a 2007 car crash that killed one teen and left three others seriously injured. The verdict was against The Nineteenth Street Investments, Inc., which formerly owned a BP service station in Bessemer, where alcohol was sold to the underage driver of the vehicle involved in the crash.
Hare Wynn attorney, Ashley Peinhardt, who represented Michael Waldrop, one of the plaintiffs who was injured in the crash, says, “Everybody knew that service station was the place to go if you were underage and didn’t have an ID. The BP station was commonly known as the source for alcohol for minors.”
The verdict for all plaintiffs involved, which included the other passengers in the vehicle, totaled more than $15 million. The jury returned a verdict of $3,750,000 for Michael Waldrop – $750,000 in compensatory damages for his injuries, pain and suffering and mental anguish and $3 million in punitive damages in order to punish the store for breaking the law, protect the public, and prevent other stores from selling alcohol to minors.
On May 2, 2007, four teenagers, two females and two males, were driving around in Bessemer, Alabama, when the female driver, suggested they buy alcohol at the BP service station on 14th Street and Fairfax. The purchase was made and the employee never asked to see an ID. Two of the four teens in the car were Michael Waldrop, 15, and Drew Robertson, 13. The teenagers returned to the service station in Bessemer several times that night, buying multiple bottles of Mad Dog 20/20 each time without being carded.
Later that evening, the female driver, who was intoxicated, crossed into oncoming traffic, swerved to miss a couple in an oncoming vehicle and ran into a tree while traveling 70 miles per hour. The car exploded upon impact and the occupants were engulfed in flames and smoke. Two of the teenagers were stuck in the burning car and Drew Robertson died in the vehicle. Hare Wynn’s client, Michael Waldrop, witnessed the death of his best friend and suffered injuries that kept him from playing high school football and from following in his dads footsteps and joining the Navy.
The owner of the gas station, The Nineteenth Street Investments Inc., solely owned by Ibrahim Sabbah, denied they ever sold alcohol to the driver and also claimed they never sold alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.Testimony indicated the business had been selling to underage kids for years and had a reputation in the community as the place minors could go if they didn’t want to worry about showing an ID. The business profited off enabling kids to drink and drive, and they lied about it. The driver went to jail and was also sued in this case. The only party that refused to take any responsibility was the owner of the business. The jury’s verdict sent a powerful and unmistakable signal – the community will not tolerate stores selling alcohol to minors and breaking the law.
“The jury believed the time was right to send a clear message that this type of illegal activity was not going to be tolerated anymore,” said Peinhardt.
The case received extensive news coverage including this live report by Melanie Posey, reporter for WBRC Fox 6.