Saturday, June 28, 2003


A Delaware County jury early Thursday awarded a Muncie couple $39 million in damages against Outback Steakhouse.

David and Lisa Markley had filed a lawsuit against the owners of the Muncie restaurant in 1999, 2 years after the couple were severely injured in a car-motorcycle accident on Delaware County Road 500-N. In their suit, the Markleys alleged that William J. Whitaker of Albany became intoxicated at a party celebrating the restaurant's grand opening on July 21, 1997. After leaving the restaurant in his car, Whitaker drove to northeastern Delaware County, where his car crossed the center line on County Road 500-N and collided nearly head-on with a motorcycle operated by David Markley. Markley suffered several leg and foot fractures, while his wife, who was a passenger on the motorcycle, was even more seriously injured, suffering massive internal and leg injuries.

Whitaker did not stop at the scene of the crash and was later convicted of two counts of failure to stop after an accident resulting in a serious bodily injury. He was sentenced in 1999 to a year on electronic home detention, followed by 2 years of probation.

According to court documents, Whitaker told police he had a beer and five mixed drinks at Outback Steakhouse before the accident. Some witnesses said alcohol was served free of charge to guests at the restaurant's grand opening party, while others said they had paid a dime each for mixed drinks and beer. "Their grand opening celebrations are like nothing I've ever heard of," Alexander said. "They have free booze, all you want, for 3 hours.

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