A Philadelphia jury awarded $9.7 million in a wrongful death case to the family of a woman killed amid an altercation outside of Anna's Bar-B-Q Pit in Lower Heidelberg Township. Tonya Focht, 35, was fatally injured by a passing SUV in the parking lot as restaurant patrons including members of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club (IOMC) brawled. Although the motorcycle club was released as a named defendant in the action, attorneys for the plaintiffs plan to file further civil actions against them specifically.
Focht arrived at the restaurant with her fiancé Mark Groff to join friends for dinner. Several verbal exchanges occurred between their party and a group from the IOMC, which soon led to fisticuffs in the exterior parking area. In a disputed series of events, Groff was allegedly “pummeled” to the ground. Focht was then punched in the face and sent falling to the ground when struck and killed by a passing SUV. Douglas and Laree Gottschall, who are IOMC members that were allegedly at the center of the brawl, insisted that Focht and Groff caused the violence to escalate.
The Berks County District Attorney, John T. Adams, led an investigation over a period of several weeks in an attempt to sort out the details and determine if grounds existed for charges relating to homicide. The authorities did not conclude that the evidence warranted felony charges. Timothy Martin and Wayne Ritchie, IOMC members who were involved in the brawl, were both charged with disorderly conduct. Groff was charged with possessing a weapon (brass knuckles). The surveillance cameras that the restaurant had in place were described as “inadequate” and witness accounts of the incident conflicted. The IOMC website shows the club was founded in Jeffersonville, Indiana in 2004.
The civil suit was filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas with Focht's mother, Brenda Bollinger, named as the plaintiff. The restaurant was accused of negligence and dram shop violations. The IOMC was also originally a named defendant in this suit that included survivorship and wrongful death claims. Focht was described as a mother of two that was enrolled in college at the time. Medical experts were hired to provide testimony on behalf of the plaintiff.
An attorney for the IOMC asserted that there is a lack of evidence that the club was the cause of the fight. Meanwhile, the Anna's Bar-B-Q Pit restaurant reached a settlement agreement with the plaintiff before the trial began. By the ended of the proceedings, the only remaining defendants were Martin and the Gottschalls. The jury award was allocated as follows:
- $3.7 million in compensatory damages, which are for the injured party and classified as either economic or noneconomic
- $2 million awarded for the claim of wrongful death
- $1.7 million awarded for the survival claim
- Martin was found to be 50% liable
- The Gottschalls were found to be 25% liable
Plaintiff attorneys are still planning to hold the Iron Order Motorcycle Club “accountable and liable for the death of Tonya Focht”. In Pennsylvania, wrongful death and survival claims are “separate and distinct” civil actions, despite often being brought at the same time. Wrongful death claims are those seeking compensation for specific surviving relatives such as a spouse, children, etc. A survival claim is instead filed on behalf of the deceased party's estate.