In my torts class, we discuss the scope and purposes of dram shop laws, which expose bars and other businesses to liability for “over serving” customers who get into car crashes or other types of accidents. Washington now has such a case involving D.C. United’s Charlie Davies who is suing the owners of a local nightclub and the company Red Bull for $20 million. He is claiming that they are responsible for his injuries from a fatal car crash that dashed his hopes for joining the 2010 U.S. World Cup team.
Davies, 25, was riding as a passenger in a car driven by Maria Espinoza, who later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 crash that killed a second passenger, Ashley Roberta, 22. Davies was left with multiple broken bones, bleeding brain, and a lacerated bladder. Espinoza was sentenced to two years in jail.
On Oct. 12, 2009, Davies, Espinoza and Roberta went to the nightclub Shadow Room for an event hosted by Red Bull. The lawsuit alleges that Espinoza was obviously drunk but that the club and company “carelessly and negligently” served drinks to drunken guests. However, Davies and Roberta still got into the car with her and drove down George Washington Memorial Parkway where the accident occurred. DAS Enterprises, the owner of the Shadow Room, and Red Bull are now in federal court in Virginia on the charges.
As a general rule, the common law was hostile to the claim of a right of action against a seller of alcoholic beverages for injuries caused by an intoxicated person. The independent decision of the person to drink to excess was viewed as cutting off proximate causation. Moreover in this case, you have the possible excessive drinking of the passengers and their decision to get into the car, which will likely be argued. In Jarrett v. Woodward Bros., 751 A.2d 972 (2000) the court defined violations of the statutes governing alcohol sales and management to include such liability. The court held:
We reach that conclusion because the legislature has expressed a policy, in unequivocal terms, that the description of this requires tavern keepers not to “permit on the licensed premises the consumption of alcoholic beverages” by underage and intoxicated persons. D.C. Code 25-121 (b). The legislature has authorized stiff penalties for violation of the statute, from fines of up to $ 1,000 and imprisonment up to one year, see D.C. Code 25-121 (a), to suspension and revocation of the liquor license, see D.C. Code 25-118 (a). Although Rong Yao Zhou involved injuries resulting from the conduct of a drunk driver, it did not preclude application of its reasoning to injuries resulting from the actions of an intoxicated pedestrian who is injured by a car.
There are exceptions among the states including Virginia where businesses were given immunity from lawsuits from third parties — making it effectively a non-dram shop state. Eight states are non-dram shop jurisdictions. A Maryland court has a case that could bring that state into the dram shop category.
Under D.C. Code Ann. § 40-717, a BAC of .05 or more constitutes intoxicaton. This then triggers potential liability under D.C. Code Ann. § 25-121(b) provides the bases for civil liability by a tavern owner. Contributory negligence and assumption of the risk are not a defense to negligent service of alcohol in violation of Section 25-
121. Jarrett v. Woodward Bros., Inc., 751 A.2d 972 (D.C. App.
2000). This is a critical benefit to Davies.
As we have seen with dram shop cases at stadiums (here), these are difficult cases for businesses. We have also seen hotels sued over dram shop charges. Most statutes exclude home owners and social events, though such actions continue to be brought under conventional negligence claims, including some bizarre cases.
This could prove an important case in the developed of the case law in D.C. on dram shop liability as well as the view of proximate causation challenges if contributory negligence is blocked for the defense.
Source: Washington Post