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Restaurant owner agrees to pay $21 million

Saturday, June 21, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The company that owns a T.G.I. Friday's franchise restaurant has agreed to pay $21 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the parents of two teenagers killed by a drunken driver.

The agreement is one of the largest reported settlements or damage awards against establishments that served alcohol to customers who later injured or killed others, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"We think the amount of the settlement speaks volumes of their guilt," Archie Parsley, whose daughter Jamie Parsley was killed in the crash, said during a news conference Friday.

A statement from Ohio Valley Bistros Inc. expressed sympathy for the victims' families and said the settlement was a business decision that "should not be construed as an admission of responsibility."

Mark Eberenz, 42, a home builder, drank alcohol at the Louisville-area T.G.I. Friday's for about eight hours last summer before he drove his truck into a car carrying 16-year-old sweethearts Cory Stauble and Parsley. All three were killed in the crash.

Eberenz's blood-alcohol level was 0.254 percent, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08.

Ohio Valley Bistros agreed to post signs at the restaurant noting its right to refuse alcohol to impaired people and offering free cab rides; to hold quarterly staff meetings on how to monitor customers' drinking; and to modify its employee application form to inquire about alcohol-related convictions.

The Mariemont, Ohio-based company also agreed to remove anyone suspected of illegal gambling and to unsubscribe to a horse racing television network at the restaurant. The plaintiffs had alleged that Eberenz and others had been betting on sporting events at the restaurant, although the company denies that.

The families had sought those stipulations at all of the 30 T.G.I. Friday's restaurants owned by Ohio Valley Bistros, but the settlement applies only to the Louisville-area restaurant.

Another Louisville bar-restaurant that served a beer to Eberenz after he left the T.G.I. Friday's agreed to pay $650,000, to be split equally among the Parsley and Stauble estates and Eberenz's daughter, who filed a wrongful death claim.

The families of the two teens said they insisted that the settlement be made public because the purpose of their lawsuit was to ensure that businesses that serve alcohol follow state laws in preventing drunken driving.

"I'm not sure that this lawsuit will change anything, but it will make them (restaurant management) more aware of the situation and the liability they may face," said Betsy Byrd, director of member relations for the Kentucky Restaurant Association.

The corporate owner of T.G.I Friday's -- Carlson Restaurants Worldwide -- said it played no part in the settlement and noted the company has alcohol-training programs in place in all its restaurants.


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