Attorney requests $15M for woman's drunken-driving death

David Yates Aug. 19, 2008, 9:46am

Putting a monetary value on the life of a 22-year woman is difficult, but plaintiffs' attorney John Morgan says the parents of Meagan Watkins should receive $15 million for her death from driving while intoxicated.

In late July, Morgan filed a motion for default judgment against the Dixie Dance Hall for failing to submit a timely answer. He asked on Aug. 8 that Judge Bob Wortham, 58th District, grant Meagan's parents, Melissa Dwyer and Jerome Watkins, $15 million in damages.

The former Crockett Street bar and dance club has since filed its answer. Although Morgan's motion is moot, it is the first document in the case that puts a monetary amount on damages.

According to court documents, Watkins had been drinking at the Dixie Dance Hall one night in June. When she left the bar, she began traveling west in the eastbound lane of Interstate 10 and struck a stopped tow truck head on. Watkins was pronounced dead at the scene, about five miles west of Beaumont.

In the two months since her June 5 death, Watkins' parents have filed a lawsuit, the tow truck driver has countersued and the bar where she had been drinking has gone out of business.

Dwyer and Jerome Watkins filed a wrongful death lawsuit June 23, naming the Dixie, Allstate, tow truck driver Travis Blaise Darby, and the owner of the truck, Independent Specialty Towing, as defendants.

Within 30 days of the initial filing, all of the suit's defendants had submitted an answer to the suit, except for Dixie Dance Hall.

Because the Dixie failed to answer within 30 days, Morgan submitted a motion for default judgment July 25.

Five days later the Dixie did respond, and in its answer denied any wrongdoing.

"If decedent Watkins was served any alcohol by any of defendant's employees, which defendant denies, each and every one of those employees had attended at least one … training program approved by the Alcoholic Beverage Commission," the Dixie's answer states.

In the meantime, the owner of the Dixie announced June 30 that he was shutting down the club - and the all of the other venues he operated on Crockett Street, nearly decimating Beaumont's downtown entertainment scene.

On July 2, tow truck driver Travis Blaise Darby filed an answer, counterclaim and cross claim to the Watkins suit.

He says the claims against him are frivolous and requests that they be dismissed as he files a counterclaim against Meagan Watkins' parents and a cross claim against the Dixie Dance Hall.

According to Darby, on June 5 he was traveling in an eastbound direction on IH-10 when he was forced to stop by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

"The DPS stopped traffic because a vehicle driven by Meagan Watkins was traveling westbound on IH-10 in the eastbound lane, threatening to cause a serious collision," Darby's original complaint states. "Meagan Watkins' vehicle did indeed strike counter-plaintiff's vehicle head-on, thereby directly and proximately causing injuries and damages to counter-plaintiff."

Darby claims he suffered right knee, lower back and chest injuries.

But Darby goes on to claim that the Dixie Dance Hall is also liable under the Texas Dram Shop Act.

The Dixie breached its duties by serving Watkins when she was clearly intoxicated and presented a clear danger to herself and others, Darby claims, and adds that the Dixie does not qualify for the "safe harbor" defense to dram shop liability.

Morgan is a partner in the Lindsay & Morgan law firm. The Dixie is represented by attorney Michael D. Getz.

Case No. A181-952

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