Plaintiff nets $35,000 in dram shop case against Regal Beagle
An Ottawa, Ill., man won $35,000 from a Godfrey tavern as the trial of a dram shop case stemming from a 2008 bar fight ended.
Plaintiff James Ceja sued the Regal Beagle Inc. for damages including more than $24,000 in medical bills and $18,000 in lost wages.
The Madison County jury awarded Ceja $35,000 after deliberating for three hours Thursday.
The award included more than $24,000 for medical bills, $9,000 in back wages and $1,500 for his past pain and suffering.
Plaintiff's attorney Michael Glisson said following the trial that he and his client were happy with the verdict and that the jury followed the law in the case.
Scott Roper, the owner of Roper's Regal Beagle, was not present when the verdict was read.
Ceja claimed the bar served its former co-defendant Michael Whittman the alcohol that led him to become legally intoxicated.
Whittman and Ceja then fought in the bar's parking lot.
Whittman allegedly blindsided Ceja, shattering his eye socket.
Whittman pled guilty to misdemeanor battery charges in connection with the February 2008 fight.
He settled with Ceja in the civil case earlier this year.
The trial opened Tuesday with a day of jury selection.
Both sides presented their cases Wednesday.
In his closing argument, Glisson told jurors that the case was simply a matter of where and how Whittman became intoxicated.
Glisson said the Regal Beagle's owners had to acknowledge they understood the state's Dram Shop laws before opening a bar that profited from alcohol sales.
"If you don't like it, you don't own a bar," Glisson said.
He pointed to the witnesses his client presented including at least two friends who intervened in the fight.
Glisson cited Whittman's own testimony that he did not believe he could drive and that he had consumed between six and 10 beers before the fight.
Glisson took aim at the testimony of defense witness Becky Powers, the Regal Beagle bartender who had been on duty the night of the fight.
Powers testified that Ceja had been drunk and "obnoxious" prior to the fight beginning.
She testified Wednesday that she did not see the fight or serve the plaintiff.
"Becky wanted Jim Ceja to be drunk but she didn't want to admit she served him," Glisson said.
He argued Powers' testimony was an attempt to help her boss, Scott Roper, and Whittman, a person she knew.
Dominique Seymoure, the bar's attorney, argued the case was more complicated than it appeared.
"The plaintiff has to prove more than just he [Whittman] was drinking alcohol," Seymoure said.
The defense attorney pointed to different versions of the events leading up to the fight at the Regal Beagle that were told by Ceja and his own witnesses.
Seymoure toof aim Whittman's own testimony, pointing to differing answers he gave about why the fight started, how much he'd been drinking and what happened during the fight.
"If he can blame it on the alcohol and not his own actions, he can sleep better at night," Seymoure told the jury.
She argued that the fight broke out over union politics and not because Ceja and Whittman were intoxicated under the Dram Shop Act.
The closing arguments ended just before 10 a.m.
Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla instructed the jury and deliberations began shortly after.
The case is Madison case number 08-L-1159.