The jury awarded Patsy Hamaker of Bessemer compensatory damages of $100,000
and no punitive damages. The amount covers the cost of her outstanding
hospital bills, but it falls short of the $1.2 million she sought.
"I am glad that a jury in Jefferson County found for Patsy," said Kirby
Farris, one of Hamaker's attorneys. "I think that it does speak to our
community's regard for safety."
Hamaker, whose stage name was Tessa, went to work at The Furnace on Oct. 17,
2007. She drank enough that night for her blood-alcohol content level to
rise to nearly three times the legal limit, was pulled by security from one
of the VIP rooms, and then left after at least three attempts to stop her,
according to testimony during the trial. Her car wrecked on the interstate,
and she suffered a broken nose and back. She says she can no longer dance
because of her injuries, according to court documents.
Hamaker claimed wantonness, alleging she was hurt because the club
recklessly disregarded its own safety rules. Those rules limited dancers to
two alcoholic drinks a night. In addition, the club had policies on what to
do when a dancer is drunk and unable to drive, which included keeping her in
the building, taking her keys, and calling a friend or a taxi to pick her
up, testimony showed.
But The Furnace said employees tried repeatedly to stop Hamaker from driving
away that night and that it was Hamaker's choice to drink.
"Bottom line is she got herself drunk, had a terrible wreck and wants
someone else to pay for it," said Davis Whittelsey, one of the club's
The two sides disputed key facts during the trial, which lasted about four
days. The Furnace maintained someone took Hamaker's car keys before the
wreck, suggesting she relied on a spare set. But her attorneys said the club
was not able to produce the keys nor anyone who would testify to taking
Other disputed issues were how Hamaker got drunk that night and whether the
club encouraged dancers to drink. Hamaker's attorneys argued she drank
alcohol furnished by the club, but The Furnace said Hamaker easily could
have brought in outside alcohol -- as she testified to doing in the past. A
waitress also said she reported Hamaker that night, after she saw her drink
a Jagermeister shot a customer ordered and suspected the dancer downed
The club's records show a customer bought Hamaker one "dancer drink," a
commission drink or bottle ranging in price from $12 to $2,500. The club did
not have a record of other drinks she may have had.
Hamaker, on the stand, said that promoting alcohol sales through dancer
drinks was part of her job. "My boss was very adamant about me getting out
there and making (drink) sales, for both him and myself," she said.
The No. 1 drink seller at The Furnace -- a dancer whose stage name is
Seduction -- testified that it is not uncommon to see dancers drunk at the
end of their shifts. But she said on the occasions when she drank too much,
management told her to stay until she sobered up or she called a friend.
Attorneys for the Furnace pointed out that dancers can specify their
preference for non-alcoholic or diluted dancer drinks. And the club's
general manager, Jennifer Etheridge, testified that she does not want
dancers getting intoxicated.