Drunk people and gasoline mix very poorly. One such ill-advised combination occurred near Bastrop, Louisiana in 2009. The blend of impaired judgment and a highly combustible, but readily available, substance often end in tragedy. That was the case for a Mr. Ryan Brodnax. He and some friends were drinking beer and playing with gasoline near a fire that they started. Mr. Brodnax was injured when one of his friends, in a lapse of impaired judgment, tossed gasoline onto the bonfire. Unfortunately, the friend also inadvertently splashed Mr. Brodnax, resulting in catastrophe. The issue before the court was whether or not a convenience store that sold beer to a friend of Mr. Brodnax, a minor, could be liable for the terrible injuries that Mr. Brodnax suffered.
The convenience store in question sold beer to a Mr. Zachary Nolan. Mr. Nolan was only 19 years of age at the time. This 19-year-old ultimately tossed some gasoline onto the fire, but in so doing splashed Mr. Brodnax with the gasoline and causing Brodnax to go up in flames and suffering significant injury. There was little doubt in the mind of the trial court that such an establishment has a duty not to sell beer to those under the age of 21. The court was also easily convinced that Mr. Nolan had a duty to Mr. Brodnax not to cover him with gasoline. The court also granted Mr. Brodnax’s motion on the issue of medical causation. His injuries were a result of the chain of events that transpired that evening. What lost Mr. Brodnax his case against Super Mart, the convenience store, was that this type of injury was not a “foreseeable” consequence of the selling of beer to a 19-year-old.
A want of foreseeability places the type of injuries suffered in this case outside of the scope of the duty that Super Mart owed to the plaintiff. The appellate court pointed out that the extent of protection owed a plaintiff by a particular defendant is made on a case-by-case basis. The public policy behind this analysis is that defendants should not become insurers of all people against all harms. There has to be a logical nexus between the conduct of the defendant and the consequences that ensued.
Citizens and businesses all have the right to be aware of the standards of conduct to which they must adhere. It would be a burden on justice to allow plaintiffs to collect from defendants when the risk that actually came to fruition is outside of the foreseeable consequences of a particular behavior. A foreseeability requirement makes justice more consistent and outcomes more predictable. If a harm is foreseeable, the individual or business has a better chance of being aware of the risk of that harm. If the potential defendant is likely to be aware of the risk, that person or business has a duty to guard against it. If the potential defendant does not have a possibility of being aware of a particular risk, it is unfair to impose a duty to guard against that particular risk.
Mr. Brodnax ultimately lost his case on appeal. The trial court’s judgment was affirmed because it was not found to constitute manifest error or to be clearly wrong: Super Mart could not foresee this type of risk so it did not have a duty to prevent it. Had Mr. Nolan purchased the alcohol and damaged something or hurt someone after getting behind the wheel of a car, it would likely have been a very different story.
If you have been injured, call the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-800 today.