The family of a man who died after a 2012 hit-and-run collision in West Ashley will receive $1.44 million as a result of settlements reached with the drunk driver who struck him and the bars and restaurants where he was served that night, attorneys said Wednesday.
The final pieces of compensation fell into place this week after Wild Wing Cafe and Gene’s Haufbrau opted to settle the case following eight days of trial in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed on behalf of the estate of Gerard Nieto, said Sandy Senn, attorney for the victim’s family.
A Charleston County jury determined Tuesday that a $1.75 million award for actual damages was appropriate. The panel was poised to consider liability and potential punitive damages when a settlement agreement with the bars stopped the proceeding in its tracks, Senn said.
The family had previously reached settlements before trial with the driver, Jason Frank Marion, 32, of Summerville; King Street Grille; Market Street Saloon; and D.I.G. in the Park. Senn said settlement terms prevented her from revealing how much each party paid, but the overall compensation for the family was about $1.44 million.
Marion, 34, is serving a six-year state prison sentence on a reckless homicide charge after pleading guilty in January 2013 to causing Nieto’s death.
Senn said the family likely would have received a much larger award if they had allowed the jury to continue its work rather than settle with Wild Wing and Gene’s Haufbrau. But attorneys for the bars had already threatened to appeal, and it didn’t make sense to delay the outcome further for Nieto’s father, who is 91 years old, she said.
“After six hours of heavy drinking, two friends left Wild Wing in separate vehicles. One driver ends up with a DUI, the other ends up in prison and cyclist Gery Nieto ends up dead,” Senn said.
“The end result of this case should demonstrate that when bars serve their patrons into oblivion, they, too, are also responsible for the unretrievable carnage that follows.”
Dawes Cooke, attorney for Wild Wing, noted that the settlement was reached before the jury considered the question of liability in the case, leaving Marion as the only party determined to be legally liable in Nieto’s death.
Cooke said he felt strongly that Wild Wing was not liable in the death, but the bar was pleased to resolve the case nonetheless.
Steven Pugh, attorney for Gene’s Haufbrau, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleged that Marion went on a more than seven-hour drinking binge at the five bars before taking to the road around 1:20 a.m. May 4, 2012.
He then slammed his truck into Nieto, who was thrown from his bicycle along Savannah Highway, near White Oak Drive, the lawsuit stated.
Marion started his drinking expedition at King Street Grille in downtown Charleston, where he hung out with several co-workers, purchasing five or six pitchers of beer over three hours, the suit stated.
From there, he and his co-workers went to Market Street Saloon and downed at least two drinks of liquor, the lawsuit stated. He and a friend then proceeded to D.I.G., where he had more liquor drinks before heading on to Wild Wing in Mount Pleasant for additional booze, the suit stated.
After leaving Wild Wing, Marion’s buddy, who was in a separate car, was pulled over by Mount Pleasant police and charged with driving under the influence, according to the lawsuit.
Marion continued on to Gene’s Haufbrau and allegedly drank three more drinks and shots with the bartender, the lawsuit stated.
Marion struck Nieto from behind soon after, which threw Nieto off his bicycle onto the road, prosecutors said. Marion’s truck dragged the bike for about a quarter-mile and then drove off, they said.
Marion did not render aid, wait for police or report the accident, warrants said. A few days later Marion turned himself in to the Charleston Police Department.