Hit-and-run victim's family sues bar

PDF: CBC lawsuit

The family of a woman police say was struck and killed by a Chattanooga Billiard Club worker, who has been charged with vehicular homicide and DUI, claims the bar provides the "benefit" of free alcohol to its employees as a ploy to retain workers.

That and other allegations are made in a wrongful death lawsuit filed Tuesday against the long-established downtown bar where Jeremy Lane, who is charged in Hamilton County Criminal Court, used to work.

In the lawsuit, filed in Hamilton County Circuit Court, plaintiff Matthew Wood, who is Mrs. Wood's husband, is seeking unspecified punitive damages for the bar's "gross negligence" and "recklessness."

Billiard Club co-owner Janice Windham could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Instead of driving home immediately after his shift ended at 3 a.m. on Dec. 23, the lawsuit claims that Mr. Lane, 25, stayed at the bar to drink alcohol "free of charge" provided by his supervisor at the club.

Mr. Lane finally would leave at 7 a.m. "visibly and clearly intoxicated," the lawsuit states, only to run over victim Susan Berry Wood, who was crossing Fourth Street to report to work at insurance giant Unum when she was hit and killed.

After investigating, police said Mr. Lane was drunk behind the wheel of his Nissan sports car, ran a red light, hit Mrs. Wood, fled, then called police and pretended he had been carjacked to cover his tracks.

"It was foreseeable and probable that harm or injury would occur to persons such as Susan Wood, given the actions of Chattanooga Billiard Club in providing free alcohol to its employees on its premises," the lawsuit states.

It is against a city ordinance for bar workers ever to drink where they work, even when they are off duty. Bars also are not permitted to serve alcohol to anyone between 3 and 8 a.m. on weekdays.

In February, the Chattanooga Beer Board suspended the bar's beer license for three days. Ms. Windham testified at the hearing, telling board members that she had fired four employees as a result of the incident, including her 40-year-old son, who was the manager on duty that night.

The bar is fighting the suspension and a hearing on the matter is scheduled to take place in June in Hamilton County Chancery Court.

In what a Unum spokeswoman has called an "odd coincidence," Mr. Lane's stepfather, Gary Bond, is a staff attorney at Unum.

Mr. Bond joins his stepson as the third defendant in the wrongful death suit.

Mr. Wood's attorney, Mike Richardson, argues in the lawsuit that the car Mr. Lane was driving was a family car and that Mr. Bond had "control" of the vehicle as the head of the household where Mr. Lane lives.

Mr. Lane is scheduled to be arraigned March 26 on his criminal charges. His defense attorney could not be reached Tuesday for comment.