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Jury: Manayunk bar must pay $525K, but Shane Montgomery also culpable in his own drowning

A Philadelphia jury on Monday found that 21-year-old Shane Montgomery’s 2014 drowning death in the Schuylkill in Manayunk was partially the result of a bar continuing to serve him while he was visibly intoxicated — but also that Montgomery was negligent before he ended up in the river.

Shane Montgomery
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A Philadelphia jury on Monday found that a Manayunk bar that closed in 2016 should pay $525,000 in damages to the family of a 21-year-old West Chester University student who drowned in the Schuylkill after a night of drinking in 2014, but also that Shane Montgomery was negligent in his own actions before he ended up in the river.

The jury of 10 women and two men found that Montgomery’s death — which the Medical Examiner’s Office deemed accidental — partly resulted from the Main Street bar, Kildare’s, continuing to serve him while he was visibly intoxicated. The jurors found that Montgomery bore the largest share of responsibility for his own death, and they did not find negligence on the part of any Kildare’s employees named in the suit.

The jury delivered its split verdict in the wrongful-death lawsuit after about 4½ hours of deliberations, marking the end of a monthlong civil trial.

Montgomery’s relatives declined to comment after the verdict, but the family’s attorney, Slade McLaughlin, called the outcome “disappointing” and said the case had turned into a “blame-the-victim defense.”

Theodore Schaer, an attorney for Kildare’s, said he respected the verdict and offered condolences to the family over the death.

Montgomery’s disappearance after a night out on Thanksgiving Eve 2014 drew the region’s attention as divers spent five weeks searching for his remains in the river. He was seen on surveillance video walking away from the bar alone toward the river after 2 a.m. Volunteer divers found his body on Jan. 3, 2015, draped over a log in shallow water near the riverbank closest to Main Street, although it was never determined how he became submerged in the water.

Montgomery’s parents, Kevin and Karen Montgomery of Philadelphia, later filed suit against Kildare’s Manayunk Inc.; two of its bouncers; and James Townsend, its director of operations. They claimed that the bar had violated state law by serving Montgomery despite his being visibly intoxicated, then had acted negligently by kicking him out without trying to find his friends or ordering him a taxi.

They and their lawyers also claimed that the bar was understaffed and not equipped to handle the rowdy crowd.

Lawyers for the defendants sought to place the blame squarely on Montgomery, using the college student’s medical and education records in an attempt to portray him as a frequent and heavy drinker.

They called an expert witness who said that Montgomery had been hospitalized in 2011 with alcohol-related hepatitis after blacking out at a homecoming party; that he was cited twice for underage drinking on campus even after being placed on probation and completing an alcohol education class; and that he appeared to have a mild case of alcohol-use disorder, marked by a person’s use of alcohol causing distress or clinically significant impairment.

Jurors did not explain their reasoning, but when polled before Common Pleas Court Judge Angelo Foglietta, all 12 members said they agreed with the decision.