The corporation who owns the convenience store where Alex Murdaugh’s youngest son, Paul Murdaugh, allegedly purchased alcohol the night of a fatal boat crash will stand trial in an upcoming wrongful death lawsuit, a South Carolina judge recently ruled.
Mallory Beach died on Feb. 24, 2019, in a boating accident off the waters of Parris Island. She was thrown off the boat from the impact when the vessel, piloted by a likely heavily intoxicated then-19-year-old Paul Murdaugh, hit a bridge piling around 2:00 a.m. The young woman was missing for almost seven days following the crash before her body was found and her loved ones’ worst fears were confirmed.
The evening before the crash, the eventually drunken pilot, later murdered by his father, used a driver’s license belonging to his older brother, Buster Murdaugh, to allegedly purchase booze from a branch of the Parker’s Kitchens convenience store chain in Richland.
Mallory Beach’s mother, Renee Beach, and other family members sued Parker’s and Alex Murdaugh for wrongful death in March 2019. Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Daniel D. Hall is overseeing the case – which is being tried in the Hampton County Court of Common Pleas; which is actually part of the 14th Judicial Circuit.
The case has moved slowly through the Palmetto State legal system. Over the years, the defendants – the Murdaugh defendants and the Parker’s defendants – were severed and separate trials were scheduled. Then, the judge reversed his own prior ruling and rejoined the defendants. Buster Murdaugh, and the estate of Maggie Murdaugh, previously named as defendants, were allowed to settle with the family on the eve of Alex Murdaugh’s double murder trial.
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Earlier this month, the Parker’s defendants filed a motion for summary judgment asking for the case to be dismissed as a matter of law, arguing that the 18-21-year-old boaters assumed the risks of traveling with a drunken pilot on the tragic night in question.
“[T]he undisputed evidence shows that Mallory Beach, an adult, knowingly exposed herself to the risk of riding in a boat with the visibly drunk Paul Murdaugh on a dark, foggy night,” the motion reads. “Even setting aside anyone’s intoxication, repeatedly getting back on the boat was plainly dangerous, given the dense fog, lack of flashlights or other boating lights, and the absence of life jackets. Adding alcohol to this equation only amplified those obvious dangers. The Boaters, including Mallory Beach, chose to put their lives at risk by repeatedly getting on the boat that evening, disregarding the plain hazard of the situation, and ignoring the multiple warning signs presented.”
A footnote further explains the convenience store defendants’ arguments: “Notably, the risks assumed here did not ‘concern[ ] the ingestion of alcoholic beverages’ by Mallory Beach herself. The risk at issue was that of riding in a vehicle at night with a plainly drunk pilot. That risk is (1) appreciable by any adult, whether or not they are of legal age to purchase alcohol themselves; and (2) not the kind of risk that an 18-to-20-year-old might fail to appreciate under the policy recognized in [another case].”
The motion for summary judgment also argued that, under South Carolina law, Parker’s cannot be strictly liable for selling alcohol to a minor – effectively an argument that the wrongful death lawsuit cites to an improper section of state law because Paul Murdaugh used an actual and not a fake ID when making his purchase and therefore the employee who facilitated the sale did not break any state laws – thus substantially minimizing any potential liability.
“When discussing a commercial vendor’s duty based on alcohol regulatory statutes, the Supreme Court has spoken of these statutes together, clearly establishing that liability may not be considered without [the law’s] knowledge requirement,” the motion argues. “Beach offers no evidence showing that Parker’s knowingly sold alcohol to an underage Paul Murdaugh. In fact, all of the evidence contradicts any such finding, entitling Parker’s to summary judgment.”
On Friday, Judge Hall reportedly alerted each side’s attorneys that he had ruled in the Beach family’s favor. Copies of the order outlining the rationale for the court’s ruling had not been uploaded to South Carolina’s online public court records system as of this writing.
The Parker defendants responded to the ruling in an email to Law&Crime.
“While we believe summary judgment should have been granted, we remain confident a jury will use their common sense and find that Tajeeha Cohen and Parker’s are not responsible for the death of Mallory Beach,” Parker’s Kitchen attorney PK Shere said in a statement.
The Beach family responded favorably to the ruling in their favor, through counsel.
“Parker’s motion bordered on being frivolous and seems to have been intended to spread a false narrative, so we fully expected the judge to deny it,” Beach family attorney Mark Tinsley said in a statement obtained by Charleston-based ABC affiliate WCIV. “We look forward to concluding this matter in August and beginning to give the Beach family some semblance of closure.”
The trial is currently slated to begin Aug. 14.
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