Does D.C. United’s Charlie Davis Have A Valid Dram Shop Claim?

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

11 thoughts on “Does D.C. United’s Charlie Davis Have A Valid Dram Shop Claim?”

  1. That’s absurd. People need to take responsibility for their own actions. And if someone orders a drink, THEY should be the ones liable, not a bartender or business that had no idea. They made the decision to get drunk, no one is forcing booze down their throat.

  2. “We have to stigmatize drink driving so that people who do it fear the shame so much that they don’t even consider it.”

    Won’t work. Recent research is that alcohol consumption DOES NOT IMPAIR decision making. The drunk knows he is making a bad decision — he just doesn’t care.

    Anyone who assists in getting a person that drunk should be strictly liable for any damage resulting from that person being so drunk..

  3. The root problem is that there are too many people who think it is OK to drive after having a few (or two – why is it “I only had two beers” when they get stopped?). We have to stigmatize drink driving so that people who do it fear the shame so much that they don’t even consider it.

    Till then dram shop laws are one tool to reduce the total load of drunken drivers. There will always be examples of it being misused (or at least appearing as if they are misused based of popular press representation of the facts). There will be undeserving winners on both sides of the law suits, thats part of our human tragedy.

  4. Anyone serving alcohol to someone who is obviously drunk is the same as strapping a bomb on on an unwilling victim — there is no effective consent where drunks are concerned.

    Should that bomb go off, the bomb maker should be liable for all injuries — no comparative negligence, no assumption of risk.

    If done during the regular course of business, the bomb maker should go to jail. And an automatic forfeiture of the proprietor’s license.

  5. I am in favor of dram shop laws that can provide relief for someone who is injured by a drunk driver or individual. I had a case years ago where a neighbor who lived near a bar was beaten by several people who got drunk at the neighboring bar and my client was severly injured by these individuals who had no assets. The bar was liable under the dram shop laws in Illinois and we settled with them and my client’s medical bills were paid.
    In the instant case, the idea that the plaintiffs got into the car with the drunk individual will be an important issue as Prof. Turley has indicated.

  6. “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.”


    Yes, here in the Commonwealth we hold all irresponsible users of alcohol accountable for their harm unless, that is, you are using it to make a profit, in which case you are positively immune.

  7. Seems to me that even before you start drinking, you know the risks, and are therefore responsible for your own actions.

  8. There is something interesting about the Bar’s Duty and yes Bron that is why we have the Dram Shop…… and the Assumption of Risk….This is again very unfortunate for all concerned….

  9. seems to me the risk of riding in a car with a drunk driver is known even when you are drunk. he could have called a cab. He assumed the risk, he should not profit from a bad choice.

    He just wants some one to take responsibility for his stupidity. His claim is with the driver of the car, not the night club.

    It is not the responsibility of the night club to keep track of how many drinks a person has.

Comments are closed.