ST. LOUIS • The wrongful death lawsuit against former beer baron August Busch IV was given new life on Tuesday when a Missouri appeals court ruled that the parents of the woman who died of a drug overdose at his mansion could join the legal action.
Adrienne Martin's parents — Christine Trampler of Ozark, Mo., and George "Larry" Eby of Springfield, Mo. — had sought to join Martin's 9-year old son in pressing Busch for damages earlier this year, but a lower court rejected their effort.
On Tuesday, a three-person judicial panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals — Kenneth Romines, Kathianne Crane and Lawrence Mooney — reversed that decision, saying "they have 'an absolute right to join' and are entitled to intervene as a matter of right."
The decision will give them greater control over legal strategy and accepting or rejecting a $1.5 million settlement offer. It will also make them privy to legal discovery surrounding Martin's death and enable them to subpoena witnesses.
Maurice Graham, a lawyer representing Busch, said he will "respectfully ask the Missouri Supreme Court for a review."
Authorities said that Adrienne Martin's death Dec. 19, 2010, in Busch's mansion in Huntleigh was an accident. An autopsy put her cause of death as an overdose of the painkiller oxycodone; officials said she also had a high level of cocaine in her blood, and that a hole in Martin's nasal septum indicated 'several months to a year of cocaine use."
The incident made international headlines and put Busch back in the spotlight. Busch, 47, took over as CEO of Anheuser-Busch in 2006, but his tenure ended with the sale of A-B to InBev in 2008.
In March, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of Martin's young son by her ex-husband, Dr. Kevin Martin. He later accepted a $1.5 million settlement offered by Busch. Circuit Judge William Syler, who had blocked the parents from joining the suit, put on hold a decision to finalize the settlement until the appeal was sorted out.
Now, Adrienne Martin's mother and estranged father will join the suit, which will likely set off a dispute over control of the litigation.
John Heisserer, the Cape Girardeau, Mo., attorney representing Kevin Martin, said he's "respectful of the court's opinion and will work to reach a fair resolution for all parties concerned."
The first dispute will be over the proposed $1.5 million settlement. Heisserer said if Tuesday's ruling is upheld, he will ask a judge to approve the settlement.
Adrienne Martin's parents would be allowed to argue whether the settlement is fair. They also could argue for a percentage of the money, if approved.
Legal experts say wrongful death damages paid to surviving children, in this case Blake Martin, typically are substantially greater than damages paid to surviving parents.
Any money paid to Blake Martin will be overseen by a probate court. Busch has said he wants the money to go to the child, not to Adrienne Martin's parents.
Lawyers for the parents have said they will seek to move the lawsuit back to St. Louis County, where it was originally filed. It had been moved to Cape Girardeau, where Kevin Martin lived.
Steven Beckett, a law professor at the University of Illinois, said a judge will likely referee the disputes.
"The court must act on behalf of the estate of the dead person," Beckett said.
Matt Placzek, a lawyer representing Eby, indicated to the appeals court that his client, who had been estranged from his daughter, could use the situation to establish a relationship with his grandson.
Placzek didn't return a call requesting comment on Tuesday. Andrew LeRoy, a Kansas City lawyer representing Martin's mother, also didn't return a call.
Peter Joy, a law professor at Washington University, said the situation may put pressure on everyone to agree and resolve the situation, or it may wind up before a jury.