Stella Case No. 011, Originally Published: 16 October 2002
Dustin W. Bailey, 22, spent the evening of 12 August 2000 drinking in a bar in Teays Valley, W.Va. Apparently seeking a warm place to lie down after he left the bar, he crawled under a truck sitting in front of a pizza parlor across the street.
The truck’s driver was inside the restaurant making a delivery. When he came out, he got in his truck and drove away. He had no idea anyone was under the truck; Bailey was run over and killed. A post-mortem found he had a blood alcohol level of 0.19 percent, nearly double the 0.10 percent legal presumption of intoxication in that state.
A tragic accident? Well, no, says Bailey’s mother, Josephine Bailey of Hometown, W.Va. She says her son certainly wouldn’t have crawled under a truck voluntarily. “We just can’t imagine our son doing that,” she said at the time. (So we’re to assume she had never seen him — or anyone else — drunk?) Since he just wouldn’t do such a thing, someone else must take the blame for her son’s death. So she filed a lawsuit in Putnam Circuit Court asking for more than $350,000 from:
- Papa John’s Pizza, because its Teays Valley restaurant “forced” the truck driver to park on a public street — right in the way of her staggering son.
- The truck driver, Samuel T. Stinson. The suit says Stinson should have looked under his truck before driving away, and he should have shut off the engine when he left it on the street.
- The truck’s owner, Rollins Transportation Systems, Inc.
- Rick’s Pub, where Bailey had been drinking, and its owner Richard E. Parsons, since the bar should have stopped serving him when he became intoxicated. (Isn’t that why Bailey left?!)
Traffic fatalities are investigated by the police. What does the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department have to say about who might be responsible for Bailey’s death? “If anyone should be blamed for that death,” says Chief Deputy John Dailey, “it’s that guy who climbed under the truck” — Bailey himself. Dailey found it “surprising” that his mother would sue over his self-inflicted death.
Imagine the anguish truck driver Samuel Stinson felt when he discovered he had accidentally killed someone he didn’t even know was there. Who looks under their cars before they drive away? He found out what happened when two men came running up to him. “Two guys yelled at me and told me that he was terrible drunk and that he had climbed under my trailer,” he told police after the accident.
No doubt if Mrs. Bailey finds out who those two guys are she’ll sue them, too, since surely everyone anywhere near her drunken, adult son that night had a duty to safeguard him. Everyone but himself, of course — his responsibility had been dissolved away in alcohol.
- “Woman Files Suit Over Son’s Death,” Charleston Daily Mail, 10 August 2002.
There’s not any mention of this suit that I could find online — not even the original newspaper article. But it’s a great example of what I call a “Sue ’em all and let god sort it out” case, reflecting on a saying that goes back to the Crusades.
Regarding a letter from last week where I cautioned a reader who said the cases I present make him “want to go out and slap some lawyer,” Michael in Florida writes:
“My partner is an attorney, currently working for the Attorney General’s office of Florida, helping abused and neglected children by getting them into safe and loving environments. When he was in private practice, he refused to take several potential cases which would have been Stella Award candidates. His sense of ethics and justice would not allow it. The other attorneys I have come to know over the years have these same values, especially those in the public sector. I guess I just wanted to put out a gentle reminder that MOST lawyers are good and decent people, trying to do the best they can for their clients and the ideals of justice.”
But Phil, an attorney in New Jersey, couldn’t handle the letter:
“One of your letter writers talked about going out and slapping a lawyer. You are pandering to a popular prejudice (the dislike of lawyers) by slanting the reporting of cases to make them appear to be frivolous. Everyone seems to hate lawyers — until they need one. I note that you are seeking ‘solutions’ from your readers to solve the problem posed the litigation reported by the Stella Awards…. No ‘solution’ is valid which jeopardizes any of our hard won freedoms.”
You presume, counselor, that I plan to rush out and embrace any quick fix, which flies in the face of what I said last week: “This is obviously a very complex issue that’s not going to be ‘fixed’ with a band-aid…. Take your time and think it out before writing — there’s no rush to this.”
Further, the cases I present aren’t “slanted to make them appear to be frivolous,” and that’s a pretty outrageous charge. I must necessarily summarize the cases I present and, as much as possible, I provide the specific articles(s) I used as source material so that readers can decide for themselves if the case is being fairly represented. Further, to say that running a letter shows I “pander to a popular prejudice by slanting reporting” is disingenuous. The letters are quite obviously the opinion of the identified author, not me, and I do run a fair selection of the letters that come in. I didn’t run the letter to “pander” to anything; rather, I assumed I’d get a good rejoinder to publish today. As you saw, I got one.
My 2020 Thoughts on the Case
As if these cases need to be “slanted” to make a point! As for the drunk in this case, people who choose to alter their thought process with chemicals, the consequences should fall on them, whether it’s blundering into their own injury or death, or negligently hurting others (as in drunk driving). Simple as that.
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