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"I'm gonna sue you for not stopping me!"

For several reasons (some of them quite good), I don't drink at all. I'm a complete teetotaler. None of those issues are moral ones, but I've never had any patience for the "it wasn't my fault, I was drunk" defense. Unless you were held down and had the booze forced down your throat, you made the decision to drink, and therefore you get to enjoy all the benefits and consequences thereof.

That's why I get so incensed when I read about stories like this. Robert Nunez was 19 when he got a fake ID and went drinking in Saugus, MA. After getting well and truly hammered, he drove off without buckling his seat belt. He slammed into another car, leaving him paralyzed. He's suing one of the places he drank at that night.

Nunez' case does have a few odd things about it. The place that served him had previously employed him, and most likely knew he was underage. It's also alleged that he wasn't charged for his food and drink, giving more credence to the argument that they willfully broke the law for him.

But after leaving there, he went home for a bit, then went out again to a second place. It was after leaving there that he crashed.

Yeah, the places that served him ought to be in some serious trouble. But the whole thing was literally his fault. HE chose to get the fake ID. HE used a pilfered "Over 21" bracelet. HE ordered the drinks. HE chose to drive himself home, then out to another place and then drive off again.

He made some very stupid decisions, as did the two places that served him. But I think it's fair to lay at least 95% of the blame for the whole thing right at his own feet. And I'd like to see his lawsuit tossed out, based on that fact.


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Comments (24)

He shouldn't get one single... (Below threshold)
just me:

He shouldn't get one single dime from those bars.

If the bars served him alcohol knowing he was underage, or that his ID was fake, they should be held legally liable for that, but they didn't tell the guy to drive his car, nor did they force feed him the alcohol.

Kevin,There used t... (Below threshold)

Kevin,

There used to be a legal defense to such negligence suits called "contributory negligence," wherein you could recover nothing if a jury found that you were more negligent than the one you blamed. Unfortunately, it does not exist any more (nor does "assumption of the risk," which would apply equally well in this instance).

I do think the facts are more egregious here, but nonetheless, the only people the bar should be held to account to are those who the moron hurt in his ill-fated joyride.

BTW, here's how it may go d... (Below threshold)

BTW, here's how it may go down:

Innocent injured party sues drunk driver and bar, proves $1M in damages. Jury finds drunk driver 55% negligent and bar 45% negligent. Drunk driver's insurance limited to $100,000, drunk driver is judgment proof. Bar is uninsured, goes bankrupt to avoid the judgment and opens up three months later under a new name, same owner.

Innocent injured party gets only $100K.


Quite a system.

Wavemaker:Contribu... (Below threshold)

Wavemaker:

Contributory negligence is very much alive and well here in Virginia.

However, I think that the comparative negligence standard makes more sense.

Setting aside the fake ID issue for a moment, I do happen to think as a matter of public policy that bars and other purveyors of intoxicants should face some liability for those who buy drinks from them in certain circumstances. Basically, if the merchant can see that a person is wasted (or nearly so) and knows that person will drive home ... then it occurs to me that the merchant should behave with some responsibility when he serves his product.
--|PW|--

WTH? If I go into business... (Below threshold)
Gringo:

WTH? If I go into business, I go into a very specific business. If my business is selling alcohol to people, that does NOT mean I should be government-forced to also be in the business of being a good samaritan.

This is right up there with the gun companies being "to blame" for gunshot wounds.

I write compute programs for a living. Do I owe it to my customers to stop them if they might be in danger of developing carpal tunnel?

This is where the right really resembles the left. It's never an issue for freedom vs. tyranny for some people, just who gets to be the tyrant.

Heh. I'm in the same boat, ... (Below threshold)
Ikkonoishi:

Heh. I'm in the same boat, Jay. I don't drink mostly due to the flavor. Anything alcoholic smells and tastes like rotten fruit or grain to me. I just can't stomach it. Or at least that is what I tell people when I refuse.

Mostly I just know that my family has a history of alcoholism, and I myself tend to get addicted to things easily. Also I seriously don't like the thought of not being able to control my own actions.

Not so, Wavemaker. IIRC, s... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Not so, Wavemaker. IIRC, several states have called Dram Shop Acts that cap a bar's liability in situations like that.

And, there's a distinction between the hypo we're discussing (third party injured) and the situation presented in the original post.

--|PW|--

Hmph. I may have spoken to... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Hmph. I may have spoken too soon. I've run searches on Dram Shop Acts, but I have yet to find where they limit liability, although they do, as a rule, impose liability on a merchant who serves alcohol to an obviously intoxicated person.

--|PW|-=-

Sorry to spam things up, bu... (Below threshold)
pennywit:

Sorry to spam things up, but I just found a limitation, in North Carolina's statutes, which pertain to selling alcohol to minors and injuries resulting therefrom. Take a look here.

--|PW|--

Wavemaker:Both con... (Below threshold)
Mark:

Wavemaker:

Both contrib and assumption of the risk are very much alive. Although various forms of comparative negligence has replaced true contributory negligence in most states, assumption of the risk is still a major defense to strict liability actions such as products liability.

Jay's right; this bastard should be entitlled to nothing. While one could argue the bars' percentage of culpability, the defense should focus on proximate causation. The bars did not cause him to get drunk and drive--he could and would have done that regardless of where he obtained the booze. He was obviously on a mission.

In a related story, a bar o... (Below threshold)

In a related story, a bar owner in Hutchinson, KS was just sentenced to jail time for a patron's drinking death. Story here. Apparently related to a drinking game sponsored by the bar. Personal responsibility is dead.

By the way, true contributo... (Below threshold)
Mark:

By the way, true contributory negligence bars recovery by a plaintiff who has *any* culpability at all. In other words, if she is only one percent at fault, she cannot recover anything from a defendant who is 99 percent at fault.

That is different from Wavemaker's definition, which would bar recovery only if the plaintiff is more culpable than the defendant.

Most states have replaced true contrib with comparative negligence. In a true comparative system, a plaintiff may be 99 percent at fault, but still be able to recover against a one percent culpable defendant, and the damages would be apportioned according to the degree of fault. If the total damages are $1,000, the plaintiff recovers only $10.00.

Many states have a more limited system of comparative that retains some aspects of contrib. In those states, a plaintiff is barred from recovery if she is more than 50 percent at fault. However, if she is 49 percent at fault, she can recover apportioned damages from the defendants who comprise the remaining 51 percent of liability.

It seems Jay would favor a true contrib system in this case, but I'm sure he can imagine situations where that would be a very harsh law. I'm curious, would he favor the contrib/comparative hybrid that bars recovery from 50 percent plaintiffs? Or how about true comparative?

Completely agree with you, ... (Below threshold)
-S-:

Completely agree with you, Jay Tea, and share in your teetotalling. Alcohol makes me feel physically awful, so I think of it in about the same way as I do a rattlesnake in a field: I give it a very careful, intentional walkaround.

Your moral reasoning is correct as all you conclude and why, but from the thread, it's clear that there's no absolute beyond what legal representation someone is capable of securing.

I think that there are ethical violations in the licensing requirements alone for merchants who opt to approach commerce without regard for the licensing that society has provided to them, and it's not so much a case of "authority" as in who gets to be right, superior, maintain the upper hand, any of that, but in the respect for agreements. A license is an agreement. Bars that violate their licensing by selling to "unqualified" consumers (underage or drunk) are morally "wrong," yes, but they're also violating their licensing terms -- which represents an offensive social violation, to my view.

It's like Patrick Fitzgerald said the other day, our system relies on truth and honesty in testimony and a license is testimony.

And, people with a need for revenge can and do go to extremes to exact that...the former employee just may have had a degree of that as to his motives, but that's another issue.

For several reasons (som... (Below threshold)
anon:

For several reasons (some of them quite good), I don't drink at all. I'm a complete teetotaler

After drinking about 10 pints of lager at a party last night I found myself entirely unable to, er, perform with a beautiful young lady I went home with. There may be something to this teetotalling lark.

Nah...I worked as ... (Below threshold)
Mark:

Nah...

I worked as a bartender for a while in college, but I haven't forgotten my roots. Now I actively lobby for, and commit much of my income and remaining liver function to, the Bartender Full Employment Act.

And yes, I do blame some of my more slurred comments here on the influence of booze. But no, I would never blame alcohol if I were ever to hurt someone.

Alcohol is evil. Alcohol is fun. Alcohol makes the rest of the world seem a little smarter. Two out of three ain't bad.

Hmmm.He gets nothi... (Below threshold)
ed:

Hmmm.

He gets nothing.

I have no sympathy whatsoever for anyone that drinks and drives. I don't care about circumstances. I don't care about age. I don't care about injuries.

He drank and then he drove. Whatever happened to him is entirely his fault and he should live with the consequences. Because you can damn well bet that if someone else was severely injured because of *his* drinking and driving he'd say he was sorry. And that's about it.

ed,In relation to ... (Below threshold)
Mark:

ed,

In relation to the facts of this case, I'm with you one hundred percent. But it's my nature to be an argumentative asshole, so what about this?:

He's drunk and driving but staying within the lines and otherwise driving legally. Suddenly, a maniacal cement truck driver comes speeding around the corner, crosses the center line, and flattens the well-behaved, but illegal, drunk. Should the drunk recover damages?

How about this? What if that drunk would have died if sober, but his inebriation actually slowed his metabolic rate in a way that saved his life and minimized injuries. Wait a second, my last bloody mary has slowed my cognitive abilities so I can't meaningfully complete this hypothetical. Never mind.

As a former bartender and n... (Below threshold)
Madfish Willie:

As a former bartender and nightclub manager, I would have to say that the first bar should be in the clear... the guy made it safely back to his home, which should be where their particular liability ended... however, the second bar would, and should, be liable if they knowingly served him as an obviously intoxicated person... if he had some friends at the bar who ordered drinks and they served him the drinks, then the bar (if they could prove this) shouldn't be liable... if the bar required some type of Alcohol Servers education program for all its' employees, then they are totally off the hook as far as liability issues and the hurt parties can only try to collect from the actual server(s)

Not to mention the fact tha... (Below threshold)
Madfish Willie:

Not to mention the fact that he broke the law in the first place by presenting a fake ID...

Not to mention the fact the... (Below threshold)
Madfish Willie:

Not to mention the fact the he broke the law by not using his seat belt...

We're talking about MASSACH... (Below threshold)

We're talking about MASSACHUSETTS here, not North Carolina or any other state. No assumption of risk, no contrivutory negligence -- but comparative negligence. As long ast the plaintiff is less than 50% negligent, he can recover from the at-fault parties ---- even if one of two at fault parties is less negligent than the plaintiff.

AND, if one defendant is found 5% negligent and another 46% negligent (making the plaimtiff 49% at fault), and the 46% negligent party is judgment proof, the 5% at fault party is exposed to the entire judgment.

Is there a MASASACHUSETTS plaintiff PI lawyer who wants to challenge that?

Gringo has it right: "This ... (Below threshold)
PTG:

Gringo has it right: "This is where the right really resembles the left." It is freedom vs. tyranny, but all I hear is quibbling over what fine point of law or statistically split hair determines "who gets to be the tyrant."

Nunez is the bad actor and ... (Below threshold)
kbiel:

Nunez is the bad actor and should not have the right to sue the bars for his injuries. On the other hand, if the people in the car that he hit want to sue the bars, then more power to them, I hope they get fat judgements, particularly from the first bar.

Of course INAL, this is just my opinion of what should be allowed or not allowed in my perfect world.

Wavemaker:I've tri... (Below threshold)
Mark:

Wavemaker:

I've tried two cases in Mass; one in Lowell and one in Lawrence. Both were product liability cases, and both involved allegations of negligence and strict liability. I won them both, and I'm pretty sure assumption of the risk was raised as a defense, at least as to the SL causes. I could be wrong, it's been a little more than ten years, and I've done a lot of these in a lot of states.

But the more salient point is that Jay's case could have happened anywhere, and we're commenting from all over the world. The peculiarities of Mass law don't govern Jay's sentiments. Each of us has a slightly different set of state laws to view this through, but his point transcends those filters.

You might be correct in describing current Mass law, but you were not correct in describing pure contib or the importance of assumption of the risk in the US as a whole.

This is why I lobbied so hard for tort reform and product liability uniformity in the 90's. Clinton vetoed a bill to which I contributed a lot of time, including substantial drafting input. The bastard.




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