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Murdaugh boat crash suit ends in a $15 million settlement for family of teen who died

The family of Mallory Beach says a Parker's convenience store in South Carolina neglected to verify the age and identity of Paul Murdaugh when he bought alcohol there in February 2019 and was later Murdaugh driving a boat when it crashed, killing Beach.
Google Maps/Screenshot by NPR
The family of Mallory Beach says a Parker's convenience store in South Carolina neglected to verify the age and identity of Paul Murdaugh when he bought alcohol there in February 2019 and was later Murdaugh driving a boat when it crashed, killing Beach.

Four years after 19-year-old Mallory Beach died in a boat crash in South Carolina, her family and people who survived the crash have reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with Parker's, the convenience store chain that sold alcohol to an underage Paul Murdaugh hours before he piloted the boat.

"All of the cases were settled with Parker's," Beach family attorney Mark Tinsley told NPR, with Mallory Beach's wrongful death case settled for $15 million.

Along with Beach's family, additional amounts will be paid to four crash survivors: Connor Cook, Morgan Doughty, Anthony Cook and Miley Altman.

The Parker's Corporation owns a chain of convenience stores in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. The case was headed to a jury trial next month in Hampton County, S.C. But the settlement will halt that process.

Paul Murdaugh died in 2021; his father, former attorney Alex Murdaugh, was sentenced to two life terms in prison for murdering his son and wife. The civil lawsuits against Parker's also targeted the Murdaugh family, saying they eased Paul's access to alcohol and the boat that crashed.

Parker's was accused of failing to block access to alcohol

The legal team for Parker's confirmed to NPR that a deal was reached, even as it expressed frustration that terms of the arrangement were revealed.

"It is disappointing that the contents of settlement discussions have been disclosed," attorney P.K. Shere said, saying all parties had agreed not to share information publicly.

Shere also emphasized that Parker's has not faced criminal charges over selling alcohol to Murdaugh, who showed his older brother's ID to a clerk when he bought alcohol at Parker's Kitchen convenience store on Okatie Highway in Ridgeland, S.C.

But attorneys for Beach and others who were on the boat say the store clerk didn't do enough to verify Murdaugh's age, noting that Paul was smaller and younger than his older brother, and that he used a credit card belonging to his mother, Maggie. He then "consumed the beverages purchased from Parker's and became grossly intoxicated" before the deadly boat crash, according to the Beach family's complaint.

In the company's view, Murdaugh and his friends made "repeated bad decisions" that night, Shere said. The store chain faced the potential of being punished along with Murdaugh, he said, as a court had recently "ruled that Parker's would be tethered to Alex Murdaugh at the upcoming trial."

Facing the potential of a large jury award under the state's joint and several liability laws, Shere said, Parker's insurance carriers opted to settle, "to avoid paying the likely award intended to punish Alex Murdaugh."

"This marks the conclusion of all the boat crash cases," he added. "We sincerely hope that all involved parties will find some measure of closure."

Beach's death and the boat crash preceded double murders

Beach's death at 19 thrust the powerful Murdaugh family into headlines, as news spread of a boating accident in the early morning hours in South Carolina's Lowcountry with Paul Murdaugh, who was also then 19, at its center.

At the time of the Feb. 24, 2019, crash, Paul Murdaugh was drunk, belligerent and at the controls of his family's boat, according to witnesses.

Authorities said in an indictment against Paul Murdaugh that he was steering a boat carrying five friends after an oyster roast when it struck a channel marker and the pilings of the R.C. Berkeley Bridge, running aground in Beaufort County, near Parris Island.

No alcohol was served at the party, according to its hosts. But the Murdaughs' boat held a cooler with drinks, and Paul and a friend briefly visited a waterfront bar after the oyster roast.

After the crash, Paul and others were taken to a local hospital, where witnesses say Alex Murdaugh also appeared. The nurse in charge described the elder Murdaugh attempting to speak with every passenger from the boat, instructing at least one of them not to say anything to the authorities about the incident.

Mallory Beach's body was found a week later, about 5 miles from the bridge.

On June 7, 2021, Paul and Maggie Murdaugh were shot and killed at their family's hunting estate. Paul's father, Alex Murdaugh, was found guilty of their murders earlier this year. When Alex spoke to emergency workers immediately after the shooting, his son's boat crash was one of the first things he mentioned.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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