New London, Bank Street bars settle out of court in wrongful death suit

New London – The family of a New London woman who fell to her death from the back deck of a Bank Street business after a night of drinking has accepted $750,000 to settle a wrongful lawsuit that in part blamed bar owners for serving an excessive amount of alcohol.

Emily Eshenfelder, 26, was found dead on the morning of Sept. 4, 2015 at the rear of the businesses at 24-36 Bank St.

A police investigation determined the well-liked manager of the family-owned Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London had likely fallen while trying to climb to the back deck of the former Old Roadhouse bar at 36 Bank St. from a fire escape at the adjacent business.

Eshenfelder was highly intoxicated at the time with a blood alcohol level of 0.307 percent, results of an autopsy show.

The lawsuit filed in 2017 named 24-36 Bank St. owner Thomas Crosby Jr., former Old Roadhouse bar owner Rachel Barclay and city building official Kirk Kripas, among others. The suit additionally alleged “reckless dispensing of liquor,” against O’Neill’s Brass Rail bar owner J&J Leasing Company and permittee Donald O’Neill Jr.

Each of the defendants had disputed the claims but settled out of court, short of trial, with no admission of liability, said attorney Joseph Barnes of the Reardon Law Firm, who represented Kendall Eshenfelder, Emily Eshenfelder’s sister and administrator of her sister’s estate, in the case. Eshenfelder’s family declined comment.

J&J leasing was the first to settle in the case, paying $500,000 toward the total settlement.

Bank Street Roadhouse LLC, which owns three of the businesses along the Bank Street strip, contributed $200,000 toward the settlement, Barnes confirmed.

The city paid $50,000 to settle, records obtained by The Day show. The suit alleged that the fire escape, condemned the day after Eshenfelder’s death, was in disrepair and presented a hazard.

Barnes said the case had gone through several rounds of mediation and had neared trial before a settlement was achieved. The settlement relieves the three different parties of any liability in Eshenfelder’s death, but Barnes said the fact there was a settlement indicates “culpability on their parts in my opinion,” the bar being the worst offender.

“She was served, by our calculation, a tremendous amount of alcohol in a very short period of time at the Brass Rail, leading up to the decision-making process that led her to climb on the fire escape, which ended with her death,” Barnes said. “I believe some of the evidence supported the claim that some of the alcohol was consumed after hours there.”

“Each of the defendants in this case had an obligation to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. Had we taken this to trial we would have established that each of them failed in that regard,” Barnes said.

Barnes said the family was not after money.

“They were looking for some accountability from the defendants, including the bar, the property owner and the city with respect to the role each of them played in this tragedy. Even though there was no admission of liability, I think we established that. I’m sure the family does feel that justice was in a sense served. No amount of settlement will ever fulfill their loss.”

Attorneys representing the defendants in the case did not return calls seeking comment.

g.smith@theday.com

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