The Neighborhood Dining Group, the parent company of Husk Restaurant, has agreed to pay a $1.1 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit. A federal judge in Charleston approved the settlement this morning.
The father of Quentin Gregory Miller sued the company after Miller died in a car accident in December. According to police reports, then-Husk Assistant Manager Adam Joseph Burnell's Audi convertible rear-ended Miller's Mustang around 4 a.m. on Dec. 17 on the Ravenel Bridge, causing both drivers to lose control. Miller's car crashed into a concrete barrier and caught fire, and Miller died at the scene. Burnell was arrested on a felony DUI charge after his blood alcohol content was found to be more than three times the legal driving limit.
Miller's family filed the lawsuit in February, alleging that the Neighborhood Dining Group had no policy — or failed to enforce a policy — prohibiting after-hours drinking by employees on restaurant property. Burnell is currently out on a $52,349 bail bond awaiting a criminal trial.
According to court documents for the $1.1 million settlement, Miller's father, as a representative of Miller's estate, agreed that the settlement was not an admission of guilt on the Neighborhood Dining Group's part, but rather meant to "provide a swift resolution of this matter."
After proposing the settlement on Aug. 2, the Neighborhood Dining Group issued the following statement to the City Paper:
"The Neighborhood Dining Group believes the events of Dec. 17, 2011 were caused solely by the personal choices of a manager-in-charge which occurred after the restaurant had closed. The litigation surrounding these difficult events has now been settled for all parties concerned. Our hearts continue to go out to the Miller family for their loss."
Carl Pierce, one of the plaintiff's attorneys in the case, took the opportunity to send a message to the leaders of Charleston's restaurant industry. "Charleston enjoys some of the best restaurants in the country, and some of the hardest-working individuals are found in our local restaurants and bars," Pierce said in a prepared statement. "However, the level of alcohol consumption at work by some food and beverage employees is shocking. It shocks the conscience at every level. My words are directed to the whole food and beverage community and are not limited to the Neighborhood Dining Group. There are good people in the industry who are attempting to change this culture. This case should serve as a wake-up call to other restaurant owners and managers to join this fight. These individuals are fighting against an epidemic of alcohol and in some cases drug use by their employees. It is an uphill battle. The industry needs to band together — as it has shown signs of doing — to prevent future tragedy. The death of Quentin Miller and the facts that will be brought to light during the prosecution of Adam Burnell should be a wake-up call for everyone who is in a position of authority."
Under the terms of the settlement, the Neighborhood Dining Group and its insurer, Peerless Indemnity Insurance Company, will pay the Miller family's $440,000 in attorney fees, as well as $49,986.59 worth of costs. According to Pierce, those costs included reconstructing the scene of the accident, hiring dram shop and pathology experts, and producing a video to demonstrate the damages to Miller's family. Quentin Miller's parents, Terry and Nancy Miller, will receive $518,513.41. Maggie Hall, who is listed as Quentin Miller's common-law wife, will receive $91,500.