Mistrial declared in Florida bar trial; Plaintiff had sought more than $46 million

By Glenn Minnis | Mar 2, 2019

After three days and more than 10 hours of deliberations failed to produce a consensus verdict, Florida Circuit Court Judge Kevin Carroll declared a mistrial in a hit-and-run case involving a local woman now left “a prisoner in her own body.”

Carroll, who presides in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, rendered his decision on Feb. 28, after jurors informed the court they were hopelessly deadlocked in proceedings where attorneys for Jaquelyn Faircloth were seeking $46.4 million in damages for their client.

Faircloth, who now suffers from severe brain damage, has remained mostly bedridden and confined to a wheelchair since the night of a 2014 crash near the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Devon Dwyer, 20 at the time of the accident, was ultimately charged in connection with the crash after authorities established he had been drinking prior to ramming into Faircloth in a 30 miles per hour zone where attorneys for her insisted he was doing at least 55 mph.

The proceedings before Carroll were webcast gavel-to-gavel by the Courtroom View Network.

At the center of the litigation was whether Dwyer, who admitted to having had at least four to five drinks on the night in question and purchasing at least four times as many, was intoxicated at the time of the crash. Just prior to the accident, he had left Potbelly’s, a bar and student hangout near the FSU campus, where he worked and had spent at least four hours drinking with friends after finishing his shift.

Testimony during the proceedings also established that Faircloth, then just 18 and in town to visit her brother, a student at FSU, had also been drinking that night at nearby hangout Cantina 101.

While the Cantina owner admitted liability for serving Faircloth alcohol when she was under the legal age limit, Main Street Entertainment, parent company to Potbelly’s, argued not only was Dwyer not drunk when he left its establishment, Faircloth’s own negligence was what caused the crash.

Early on, jurors' struggles in sifting through all the twisting mountains of evidence was apparent, with the panel at one point requesting that Dwyer’s full testimony be read back to them for clarity.

While on the stand as the defense’s first witness, Dwyer claimed most of the drinks he purchased that night were for friends eager to take advantage of his 50 percent off employee discount.

In his opening statement, Mark Avera, Faircloth’s lead attorney from Florida-based Avera Smith, told the court that evidence would prove Dwyer purchased as many as 18 beers and six bourbons that night over a four-hour window. He added the only reason that there no blood-alcohol tests performed on him was because he fled the scene right after the accident.

"She has no ability to communicate her thoughts or emotions or basic needs; an itch, a pain, an 'I love you',” he added of his client. “None of those she can express without painstaking work involving a communication device. She is truly a prisoner in her own body. A prisoner to her wheelchair, and to her bed.”

Faircloth’s father also told WCTV since the accident his daughter has been forced to endure six surgeries and has suffered three seizures.

In summarizing his case, Dwyer’s attorney Michael Carney told the jury his client’s hands were essentially tied when it came to having any chance of avoiding the accident. He argued not only was Faircloth wearing dark clothing on the night of the crash, she also drunkenly darted out in front of traffic.

Finally, Dwyer, also legally a minor at the time, insisted he only fled the crash scene because he feared being punished for his underage drinking. His Ford pickup truck was later found hidden in the yard of one of his friend's home and he was ultimately sentenced to 30-months behind bars for leaving the scene of an accident.

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