SUNBURY — A $2.3 million resolution will keep the community safe from bars and restaurants who serve people too much to drink, said an attorney representing Scott Bitler's family.
"This resolution sends a clear message to never drink and drive, but also to bars, restaurants, clubs and any place that serves alcohol that if you serve persons who are visibly intoxicated, there will consequence for your actions and inactions," said the family's attorney, Michael J. Pisanchyn Jr., of the Pisanchyn Law Firm in Stroudsburg.
Bitler, of Bloomsburg, was injured in a crash involving a drunken driver on May 15, 2016, and was paralyzed until his death Feb. 19, 2019, at the age of 60.
Following a jury trial in December, Northumberland County Judge Paige Rosini issued an order to award the $2.3 million settlement in the case. According to the order, employees of the Sunbury Social Club and Bob Washington's Tavern overserved Cody McCollum on May 15, 2016. McCollum, now age 27, was driving drunk in a GMC Sierra when he crossed the yellow lines on Route 147 on the Priestley Bridge and struck Bitler's Jeep Wrangler at 1:15 a.m.
McCollum pleaded guilty on Jan. 23, 2017, to five misdemeanors of driving under the influence and reckless endangerment of another person and five summary traffic violations. He was sentenced to two years of intermediate punishment, including house arrest, followed by six years of probation.
According to court documents, Sunbury Social Club and its bar personnel must pay $280,000; Bob Washington's Tavern and its personnel must pay $15,000; McCollum must pay $100,000; vehicle owners Susan and Ben McCollum must pay $250,000; Sunbury Social Club director David Ross must pay $100,000; Sunbury Social Club Director Gregory Hoffman must pay $1.3 million; Progressive Insurance must pay $250,000 and Tuscaror's Wayne Insurance Company must pay $30,000. The money can be paid through insurance policies, if applicable, according to court documents.
The Pisanchyn Law Firm will receive $801,210.67 for fees and costs; the remaining $1,523,789.33 will be made payable to the estate of Scott Bitler and Kreisher Marshall and Associates LLC as the estate attorneys, according to court documents.
The Sunbury Social Club is also required to donate 60 percent of its net gambling proceeds to qualifying charities with 20 percent of that donation be done so in memory of Bitler to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to aid those living with paralysis. The remaining will be donated to charities in and around Northumberland County in memory of Bitler, according to court documents.
A plaque stating "In loving memory of Scott Bitler that no one should be over-served and a reminder to never drink and drive 1/2/1959-2/19/2019" must be placed in the bars. All servers must be certified in the Responsible Alcohol Management Program, according to court documents.
According to court documents, the bars must also put policies and procedures in place to keep the community safe, including keeping a written record and telling a manager of a customer being cut off; replacing the alcoholic drink with soda, coffee, food or water; if possible, detain the intoxicated customer who intends to drive with food and drink to allow time to sober up; offer alternative forms of transportation; and threaten to call the police if the person insists on driving, as well as follow through on threat if the person leaves and drives.
Pisanchyn said he and the law firm is proud to have helped the family obtain justice and be sure the community is kept safer as a result of the case.
"The initial offer to this case was very low and barely over a hundred thousand dollars; however, Scott and ultimately his wife Debbie Klinger Bitler demonstrated great courage and the Pisanchyn Law Firm through discovery learned of very egregious facts," said Pisanchyn. "These facts included in the months after Mr. McCollum caused Mr. Bitler to be a paraplegic in this collision the Sunbury Social Club still continued to serve McCollum Rum and Coke drinks the same type he was overserved and caused this collision and Mr. Bitler’s ultimate death. Additionally, Washington Tavern was cited numerous times previously by the Liquor Control Board even before it overserved McCollum."
A representative of Sunbury Social Club and Bob Washington's Tavern were unable to be reached.