The history of American jurisprudence is filled with various attempts by state legislatures and courts to grapple with the issue of liability that should be imposed on those in the business of serving alcohol. On the one hand, it makes logical sense to hold bars responsible for profiting from serving drinks to patrons to the point of intoxication and sending them out the door to wreak havoc on the world. Indeed, many jurisdictions have enacted “dram shop” laws to create this kind of liability. On the other hand, individual responsibility is a strong and enduring concept, and many states place the responsibility for drunken behavior squarely on the party that imbibes.
Arthur B. Tregre, Jr. was driving his vehicle southbound on Louisiana Highway 52 in St. Charles Parish. The car immediately ahead of him was driven by Dallas Veillon. When Veillon attempted to make a left turn, a police cruiser, driven northbound by Deputy Jeff Watson, crashed head-on into Veillon’s car. As a result of this collision, the police cruiser then hit Tregre’s car, seriously injuring him and killing Deputy Watson.
Tregre filed a lawsuit against several parties following the incident. The defendants included the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Department based on the fact that Deputy Watson was on duty at the time of the accident; Veillon, whom Tregre alleged was drinking at Boogie’s Bar in Larose immediately before the accident; and Darrel Ranatza, the owner of Boogie’s Bar. Tregre argued that Ranatza was liable for the accident because, even knowing Veillon was unfit to drive due to intoxication, the bar’s employees ejected him from Boogie’s.
Ranatza filed a motion for summary judgment, which is a motion that essentially asks the Court to drop the lawsuit. In support of his motion, Ranatza argued that he was not liable because his bar was not directly at fault for the accident, which occurred on a public highway and not within the four walls of Boogie’s Bar. The trial court granted Ranatza’s motion and dismissed Tregre’s claims against him and the bar.
Tregre appealed to Louisiana’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal. According to La. C.C.P. art. 966B(2), a summary judgment is proper if there is no issue regarding material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Court noted that Louisiana statute clearly establishes that in cases where an intoxicated individual causes injury to another, the individual’s consumption of alcohol is the proximate cause of the injury, rather than the party who furnished the alcoholic beverages. La. R.S. 9:2800.1 The purpose of this statute is to place the responsibility on the intoxicated individual rather than the server of the alcohol. Aucoin v. Rochel, 5 So.3d 197 (La. Ct. App. 2008).
Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Tregre’s claims against Ranatza and the bar. Because Louisiana statute essentially grants immunity to the server of alcohol, the Court reasoned that Boogie’s could not be held liable for the actions Viellon took once he left the bar. Tregre attempted to argue that Ranatza was not properly licensed to serve alcohol, and thus the state immunity statute should not apply, but the Court found this unpersuasive; in its view, the law is clear: only the intoxicated individual is responsible for damages he causes.
Louisiana’s statute shows that the state clearly sides with the second approach discussed above — that is, the drinker, and not his bartender, is responsible for his actions while under the influence of alcohol. While perhaps appearing harsh for accident victims like Tregre, it should be noted that Tregre was able to maintain his claims against Viellon personally. Anyone involved in a drunk driving accident should seek the counsel of an experienced attorney who can help ensure all responsible parties are included in a lawsuit so that proper compensation can be obtained.
Additional Source: TREGRE v. CHAMPAGNE
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Peter Lee
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