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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Deep pockets

We all believe individuals should be responsible for their own actions. Many of us deplore, to one degree or another, the trend today toward assigning blame to others -- the bartender who sells the drink, the firm that distributes the firearm, the company that manufactures the cigarettes that people make themselves sick with, driving up health costs -- in ways that dilute that individual responsibility. But what about people who know -- or should know -- they are contributing to the harm caused by others but go ahead and do it anyway? What about someone who says, "Sure, here it is," when his mentally deranged neighbor, who's been talking about shooting his ex-wife for a month, asks to borrow his gun? There is moral culpability, for sure, but what about legal blame?

It is against the law in Indiana to "sell, barter, exchange, give, provide or furnish an alcoholic beverage to a person who is intoxicated." (Also to a person "known to be an alcohol abuser," but that's would be worthy of a whole separate post). Such a law would seem to cover that over-serving bartender, but it is now also being cited in a case of a man who got drunk at a company picnic. The victim of a crash involving the man is suing both his company and the city of South Bend for not "exercising due care in the furnishing of alcoholic beverages":

Miller's attorney, Chet Zawalich, told The Tribune he is confident he will be able to prove that the individuals who served Hoshaw beer at the stadium knew he was intoxicated. Does that mean he has eyewitnesses who will testify that Hoshaw was visibly drunk?

Zawalich would not elaborate, but he said he could call upon an expert witness who could testify that the individuals who served Hoshaw should have known he was drunk, given his age, size and the amount of beer he had consumed.

That seems like a stretch to me. Yes, even if there were multiple people serving the guy, it would have been possible for those serving to notice if he were behaving drunkenly. But to somehow know how many drinks he had been served all day and calculate their effect based on his age and size? This is the kind of suit that makes groups reluctant to sponsor anything for fear that someone might hold them ressponsible for something, however remotely plausible the case. The victim here more or less admits she is simply suing those with deep pockets because she still has medical bills to pay and the allegedly impaired driver doesn't have the money to cover them.


Mon, 04/02/2007 - 11:27am

The Deep Pockets problem is this:

1. The loss has been incurred; the damage has been done.

2. The most responsible party -- the drunk in many cases -- should be responsible, but will not be because he is financially insolvent and it's simply impossible to force enough out of the drunk to pay for the injured party's loss.

3. So, the only question is whether the injured party or some third party should pay for the loss. Again, in a perfect world, neither would have to pay for it. But it's not a perfect world. The loss has been sustained and we have to choose who is going to bear the loss; the injured party or some third party.

I agree with you, Leo, -- based on the facts presented -- that the company picnic seems like a stretch.

But, what aggravates me a little, is that in discussions like these, it seems like somebody will usually take a position (to be clear, you haven't) that assumes that it's an option to have nobody bear the loss. But, the default position is for the injured party to bear the loss. If a third party is not held responsible, and the main tortfeasor cannot be held responsible, then the injured party will continue to bear the loss. Sometimes, that's just the way it has to be. Other times, the burden can be justifiably shifted.

Steve Towsley
Mon, 04/02/2007 - 3:44pm

On the other hand, it has always seemed shocking and outrageous to me that some people would like to believe that completely innocent parties should pay if they happen to have enough money in the bank. That, by definition, is not justice; it is the opposite of justice and the abuser of the system becomes the victim who doesn't care who gets the blame or the bill.

I've never felt that a victim, no matter how deserving of recompense, is in any way justified in taking the life savings of an innocent party, or even seeking to take it.

"Working the system" is what criminals, welfare cheats, con artists, gypsies, and career indigents do. And those who file indescriminate, scattergun lawsuits for damages in hopes of a payday from any poor schmuck regardless of fault or subsequent hardship for the other guy....

My advice: Sue only the guilty, and be content with that. Your conscience will rest easier for life, and the appeals will be a lot less troublesome for you.

Tue, 04/03/2007 - 5:02pm

dont drink and drive. you'll hit a bump, and spill your drink on yourself.

What do all the alcohol vendors say? party responsibly. exercise common sense. ask a friend for a ride. offer your drunk buddy a ride.

obey the laws- dont overserve your customer.
As Harry Callahan said so eloquently
"a man has got to know his limitations"

dont serve alcohol at ballparks, or coliseums. kids watch, they learn bad habits. Drink at home