Sides working on settlement in track suit

February 06, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Lawyers on both sides of a lawsuit filed against the owners of Charles Town Races & Slots by a Hagerstown woman injured in a 1999 car crash said Thursday they believe they reached a settlement in the case.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. gave the lawyers until Monday afternoon to assure him that both sides had reached an accord or the trial would begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday with opening statements.

Steptoe had set aside three to four weeks for the trial. The jury of six plus two alternates is made up of women.


Attorney John C. Skinner Jr. of Charles Town, who represents Donna Jackson, the plaintiff, told Steptoe that negotiations on the settlement had been under way since Wednesday.

"We firmly believe we will reach a resolution," he told the judge.

Attorney George Stewart of Greensburg, Pa., who represents Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., the parent company of Charles Town Races & Slots, agreed that while the talks were taking longer than expected, there was no breakdown in the deal.

"It's very complicated," he told Steptoe.

The lawyers said no one from Penn National was available Thursday to sign off on the settlement, tax lawyers have since become involved in the talks and the settlement involves multiple insurance companies in Connecticut, New York and Boston.

Jackson alleges in her suit that her car was struck by that of Benjamin Napper, who had been plied with free liquor to encourage him to gamble.

The suit alleges that track employees "overserved" Napper until he was visibly intoxicated.

The accident, which occurred near the U.S. 340 bridge at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., left Jackson with massive head and leg injuries, broken ribs and a punctured and collapsed lung.

Jackson's infant grandchild, who was in the car, suffered a broken leg, according to the plaintiff's attorneys.

Napper later pleaded guilty to DUI causing injury.

Jackson was not in court Thursday. She came to court in a wheelchair on Wednesday.

Skinner said her medical bills have topped $850,000 so far.

On Wednesday, Jackson's lawyers asked Steptoe to consider sanctions against Penn National after they learned that a track employee destroyed evidence in the case.

Involved were time sheets that the track provided Jackson's lawyers for all employees except cocktail servers and bartenders, according to a motion requesting sanctions against the track.

Track officials, in a letter to Jackson's lawyers, said they were making copies of the time sheets for the plaintiffs.

In their motion for sanctions, Jackson's lawyers claimed the letter was dated Nov. 17, 2003, nine days after the time sheets had been shredded by track employees.

A track official testified Wednesday that the time sheets had been destroyed unintentionally.

Jackson's lawyers asked Steptoe to issue a default judgment, which, in effect, would mean a ruling in favor of Jackson. The jury would then determine the dollar amount of damages.

Steptoe said Thursday he would make a decision on the sanctions request if the settlement falls through and the case goes to trial Tuesday.

Other documents relating to the track's serving of alcohol included a memo from Bill Bork Jr., a track official, to a group of track employees dated Oct. 20, 1998 in which he directed employees to do away with the "two free drinks" promotion in favor of giving "unlimited complimentary drinks" to patrons who built up slot machine credits.

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