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Drunk driver can be sued for crash victims' amputations

Every salesperson knows you have to take care of the customer if you expect to get repeat business.  Maybe a round of golf, lunch, tickets to a show, or a day of fishing.  One Texas company decided to thank one particular customer with three day resort stay in Port Aransas, complete with some time on the water trying to hook whatever was biting.  Somewhere along the line, alcohol got involved.  Way too much alcohol.  The customer who had been enjoying the vendor's hospitality left the resort and was on his way home when his car struck two people on a motorcycle. Both lost a leg in the crash and sued for damages.

What makes this case different is the question of exactly where the drunk driver consumed all the alcohol; on the fishing boat or back at the resort on dry land.  Guests enjoyed an open bar while on shore but the resort's policy was they would not supply booze for the boat - the sponsor would have to buy that separately.  The defendant does not deny being drunk but he also says he can't recall how he got that way.  At the original civil trial, a toxicologist said the man had at least 12 drinks, and they were consumed within the timeframe that he was out fishing.  So why does it matter so much where the defendant got drunk?  It matters because the two injured motorcyclists sued the sponsoring company under maritime law for providing a "floating dram shop" and claiming they had a duty to prevent their customer from becoming inebriated. Dram shop laws are most often applied to bars, and they forbid service to people who are obviously intoxicated.  If the man had gotten loaded on land, the plaintiffs could not sue under maritime law.  A Refugio County judge decided the company was not responsible, but a state appeals court has reversed the ruling.

 

The court cited e-mails from the sponsor that encouraged unbridled drinking, as well as testimony that the defendant was drinking something out of a can while fishing. In fact, the court wrote, the fisherman had to be awakened several times to reel in his catch. When the boat docked, witnesses say the man was very drunk. At the time of the accident his blood alcohol level was 0.250. The man pleaded guilty to intoxication assault and was placed on probation.

With this appeals court decision the case will return to a lower court where lawyers for the injured bikers and the company will battle it out over when and where the drinking occurred. If the alcohol was consumed at the resort, the company had no duty to stop the man from drinking. It if happened on the boat where the company been the alcohol supplier, there was a duty to intervene. One justice dissented, saying it doesn't matter whether maritime law is involved or not. What's most important, she wrote, is whether the fisherman's "reckless, criminal or negligent" conduct is responsible for two people losing their legs.

Source: Courthouse News, "Drunken motorist could hook fishing trip hosts," Jeff Gorman, Nov. 15, 2012

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