Testimony concludes in Regal Beagle dram shop case; closing arguments Thursday

Amelia Flood Sep. 8, 2010, 11:10am


Jurors heard opening statements and testimony from both sides in the trial of a dram shop suit against a Godfrey tavern Wednesday in Madison County Circuit Court.

Plaintiff James "Jim" Ceja of Ottawa, Ill. is suing Regal Beagle Inc., the owners of Roper's Regal Beagle, for allegedly allowed a man to become intoxicated.

That man, Michael Whittman, then fought with Ceja and shattered the plaintiff's eye socket.

Ceja's suit is seeking more than $50,000 in damages including medical bills and lost wages.

Whittman, a co-defendant in the case, settled with Ceja earlier this year.

Whittman also pled guilty to criminal charges in connection with the February 2008 bar fight.

The bar has a counterclaim for set-off pending against Whittman.

Closing arguments in the case will begin at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The jury was sent home around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Plaintiff's counsel Michael Glisson told jurors in his opening statement that his client had simply been enjoying a night out before beginning work on a six-week job when the fight happened.

"Jim wasn't looking for a fight," Glisson said.

Glisson said that while his client wasn't alleging that the bar actively helped start the fight, Glisson said his case would prove that it violated the state's Dram Shop Act and helped cause the injuries.

Dominique Seymoure, acting for the defense, told jurors that they would hear conflicting accounts from bar staff and the plaintiff's own witnesses about what actually happened the night of the fight.

Seymoure stressed that Whittman's level of intoxication was in dispute.

"This case is not as cut and dried as the plaintiff would have you believe," Seymoure said. "It's not simply that he was intoxicated and the intoxication was the cause."

Robert Tribble Jr., a friend of Ceja's who intervened in the fight, testified first in the plaintiff's case Wednesday morning via video deposition.

Tribble said that Ceja had tried to calm Whittman before the initial fight began outside the bar and that after Tribble pulled Ceja off Whittman, he believed the fight was over.

Tribble testified that Ceja did not see Whittman's heaviest blow coming.

The witness admitted Ceja had been drinking prior to coming to the Regal Beagle and at the bar.

He also admitted that he and the plaintiff did not wait for police to arrive on the scene after the fight and that he did not take Ceja to the hospital himself because he did not think the plaintiff's injuries were serious.

Jurors were set to hear more testimony in the plaintiff's case after the mid-morning break.

Ceja's testimony wrapped up the plaintiff's case.

He testified that he had not gone to the bar for any other reason than to have a "good time."

"I think everything got out of hand," Ceja said. "It kind of caught me off guard because I was having fun. And if I hadn't been drinking, I would have kept my eye on him and he wouldn't have blindsided me."

The plaintiff told jurors that the fight escalated as Whittman called him a "scab" and other names.

In presenting its case, Regal Beagle called two witnesses, the bartender on duty that night and Scott Roper, the tavern's owner.

The bartender, Becky Powers, testified that Ceja was drunk but that she did not observe the same signs in Whittman, an acquaintance.

She testified that she did not see the fight but that Ceja and his party had been "hooting and hollering" throughout the evening.

The trial will continue Thursday.

Glisson represents Ceja.

Seymoure represents Regal Beagle Inc.

Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla presides.

The case is Madison case number 08-L-1159.

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