With the recent resolution of criminal charges filed after he pushed a woman off a barstool at Little Whiskey Christmas Club (LWCC) in November 2018, it appears the civil liability case against Fairhope bar owner Ronan McSharry is scheduled for trial early next year.
The victim and plaintiff, Paula DiNardi, is seeking damages for injuries incurred after she claimed McSharry shoved her backward off a barstool during an argument.
McSharry was convicted of third-degree assault and public intoxication in Fairhope municipal court, but he appealed to circuit court. There, his assault charge was dismissed after Presiding Judge Clark Stankoski found Fairhope prosecutor Marcus McDowell made a “fatal error” on charging documents. McDowell later allowed his own appeal deadlines to expire.
But McSharry’s public intoxication charge was affirmed after a jury trial in March, and he received a 30-day suspended jail sentence and 1-year probation. With the criminal charges settled, McSharry’s attorney, James Pittman, filed a response to the civil complaint in May.
In it, McSharry again denied DiNardi’s allegations, but he also filed a counterclaim against both DiNardi and the owners of LWCC, claiming employees of the establishment “sold, distributed or served multiple alcoholic beverages at the same time to McSharry and/or DiNardi while (they were) visibly intoxicated, in violation of the regulations of the ABC Board.”
McSharry’s countersuit alleges the negligence of LWCC “intentionally, negligently or wantonly caused both McSharry and DiNardi to become substantially impaired, which directly contributed to or caused the incident.”
McSharry’s complaint seeks to pierce the corporate veil and names LWCC owners Noell Broughton, Bobby Kilpatrick and David Shipman as liable. McSharry, who himself is an ABC license holder, claims LWCC was “undercapitalized and underinsured” at the time of the incident, and did not have the required $100,000 in liquor liability insurance.
DiNardi’s lawsuit “has caused McSharry to incur substantial legal fees” and as a result of the incident, “McSharry voluntarily checked himself into an extensive inpatient alcohol treatment facility, and once completed, continued with outpatient counseling and has remained sober since.”
LWCC filed a motion to dismiss in September, arguing the two-year statute of limitations had expired either five months (from the date of the incident) or three days (from the date of DiNardi’s lawsuit) before McSharry filed his complaint. LWCC also argues the only remedy in Alabama for unlawful dispensing of alcohol is the Dram Shop Act, not the ABC Board regulations cited by McSharry.
LWCC admits the regulations include “no ABC Board on-premises licensee, employee or agent thereof shall serve any person alcoholic beverages if such person appears … to be intoxicated,” but argues the regulations “do not create a private civil cause of action or impose liability against LWCC for negligence or wantonness.”
“In McSharry’s third-party complaint, he alleges that because of LWCC’s conduct, he was directly caused to ‘suffer damages.’ A complete reading of the complaint shows that McSharry was not injured in person, property or means of support. In fact, the only injury that McSharry seems to have sustained is his financial cost of defending himself,” LWCC claims.
On behalf of McSharry, Pittman argued the statute of limitations had not expired because the civil case was stayed while the related criminal case against McSharry proceeded.
That and other motions were the subject of a hearing Nov. 2, where Stankoski denied LWCC’s motion to dismiss McSharry’s countersuit because no representatives of LWCC attended. The next day, attorneys for LWCC filed a motion to reconsider, claiming they were confused about the location of the hearing after several delays and miscommunications. Stankoski denied their motion to reconsider Nov. 10.
Stankoski made a number of other minor decisions Nov. 2, including accepting the withdrawal of an attorney who once represented this newspaper and reporter during McSharry’s efforts to obtain privileged communications with sources earlier in the case. In a controversial decision in 2020, Stankoski ordered Lagniappe to turn over “all materials and/or documents and/or requested communications that were not published” while reporting on the case.
In addition to McSharry’s alleged defenses against LWCC, he claims a settlement agreement was reached with DiNardi just weeks before she filed her lawsuit “whereby all of DiNardi’s claims asserted against McSharry in this lawsuit would be dismissed without prejudice. DiNardi has refused to abide by the terms of that settlement agreement.”
On Friday, LWCC filed 26 affirmative defenses against McSharry’s complaint. DiNardi has yet to respond to McSharry’s counterclaim, and while the parties have agreed to enter mediation, a jury trial is scheduled Jan. 31.
For what it’s worth, LWCC has since been rebranded to simply “The Little Whiskey.”
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