Hotel owner sued for DUI-death in front of hotel. - Posted by Phil M (FL)

Posted by Tim_Cleveland on March 01, 2002 at 17:50:49:

Michael:

You probably know by now that your story is not atypical. It happens just liek this all the time. The alcohol your establishment served, worked to intoxicate the peopel involved and they were held repsonsible. In general again, I am not an attorney, Dram Shop Acts in the states (I am pretty sure there is some form of the law in all states)apply to those establishments who are in the business of selling alcohol and who are held more responsible than other establishments and individuals for the safe conduct of their patrons.

On the one hand, it makes sense that if you operate a liquor establishment, allow someone to come in and get totally ripped, you have a responsibility to prevent that trashed person from going out and getting behind the wheel. In your case and in many others there are “mitigating circumatnces” that may effect your percentage liability. In your case they were drag racing, In JT-IN’s they had a coupel at his place and got totally ripped somewhere else. Once again, Dram Shop acts and lawsuit after lawsuit have established that all serving establishments are partially at fault. What is interesting in the original article is that, unless I am mistaken, the hotel did not SERVE the alcohol, but ostensibly “allowed” it to be conumed in an irresponsible manner on their premises. It will be interesting to see hwo it goes, but again, I will give you great odds that the hotel and its insurers will pay a lot.

As you mention, there is a lot to be said about the prospect of “Tort Reform.” I personally go back and forth on the issue. Whiel judgements and legal theories of liability are way out of hand, I am a proud capitalist and free marketeer. I say that if teh market bears $5.50 Black Jack and cokes, that consists of about 50 cents worth of alcohol and with a couple of the dollars going to insurance premiums and lawsuit settelment/judgements, then so be it. But I cringe when a lady gets $4 Million for riding the down the road with hot coffee between her legs because McD’s didn’t warn her that it was very hot. It is all really teh same thing.

Just my thoughts.

Tim

Hotel owner sued for DUI-death in front of hotel. - Posted by Phil M (FL)

Posted by Phil M (FL) on February 28, 2002 at 16:08:00:

This is a newspaper article from today’s paper in my hometown, Panama City, FL. I would like to know your thoughts on the suit and possible steps hotel owners (and other property owners) could and should take to prevent lawsuits such as this one.

I am new to this site and do not know if this would be more appropiate to post on the commercial forum, but I noticed the interest in the S.F., CA, situation so I figured some of you would be interested in this as well.

The link to the article is:
http://www.newsherald.com/articles/2002/02/28/lo022802a.htm

Please note: this is NOT a Hilton hotel, Charles Hilton is the name of the guy who owns the company that owns the hotel.


"Hilton, hotel named in Spring Break DUI-death suit"
KENDALL MIDDLEMAS
The News Herald

A Panama City Beach hotel and its owner should be held liable for the death of an 18-year-old Tampa woman whose car was hit by a 20-year-old drunken driver last March, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Bay County Circuit Court.

Felix Aguila, whose daughter Marilyn died of injuries suffered in the March 12, 2001, accident on Front Beach Road, is suing businessman and attorney Charles Hilton, the Hilton Companies and the Best Western Casa Loma Hotel Inc.

The main thrust of the suit is that the defendants failed to prevent the underage drinking at the hotel that led to the traffic accident. Hilton owns the Casa Loma and several other Panama City Beach hotels.

Derrick Smith, a Tennessee resident who was in Panama City Beach for Spring Break, rear-ended a car in which Marilyn Aguila was a backseat passenger.

Smith, who was then 20, had been drinking heavily at the Casa Loma in the six hours preceding the crash, the suit said. He left the hotel at the order of a security guard.

Smith had a blood-alcohol level of .216 at the time he drove his pickup truck into the car in which Aguila was riding, according to police reports. The legal limit is .08.

In November, Smith pleaded no contest to DUI-manslaughter. He is serving a 10-year prison sentence.

Aguila’s suit, which was filed Wednesday, contends that Hilton and the hotel “created a zone in which the risk was exponentially increased that irresponsible, irrational, and/or dangerous behavior by one or more of the youngsters would result in injury or death to one or more of the youngsters, or the general public, including passengers and motorists such as Marilyn Aguila.”

Hilton was out of town and unavailable for comment Wednesday. Jackie Kolk, a partner in Hilton’s law firm, said Hilton had not been served with a copy of the suit as of late Wednesday afternoon.

But, she said, “We have no knowledge of any activity at the Casa Loma that would be the basis for a valid lawsuit.”

Steven Yerrid, a Tampa lawyer representing Aguila, said “the quest to make money” should not supplant hotel owners’ responsibility to monitor the activity of its guests - particularly if they are young people essentially entrusted to their care.

“The people that are unscathed in all of this are the people counting the money,” said Yerrid, who is working with Panama City attorney Clifford Higby on the case.

According to the suit, Smith, his brother and three friends began drinking at the Casa Loma about 5 p.m. March 12, 2001.

"At approximately 11:30


Re: Hotel owner sued for DUI-death - Posted by JT-IN

Posted by JT-IN on February 28, 2002 at 17:15:42:

Phil:

Yes, this question is better suited to the commercial board, but since I have read it here, I will go ahead and offer my opinion, based on experience, as a former Restaurant, Bar and Hotel owner.

There is very little that one can do to stop such suits; it runs with the risk of the business. Education of employees is helpful, but asset protection is key. One should operate such a business in a corp, or LLC, and have plenty of liability insurance, as well as liquor liability; (specific).

I had an instance when I was in business, where a patron had a few drinks (4) one night, went on the drink many, many more drinks elsewhere, until the wee hours of the night/morning, far exceeding any legal bac limits. The evening ended with a serious vehicle accident, resulting in serious bodily injury. When they left one of our places they were not legally impaired, but they started drinking there.

We were determined to be legally liable for 30% of the incident and a settlement was reached. My exposure was zero, due to great isurance coverage. The entire cost of defending the suit was born by the insurance company.

Soooooo, when folks complain about insurance costs, as you often see here on this board, I know that they have not ever been in an incident where a major claim was involved. When I get an insurance renewal, and the premium has risen considerably, I consider it the cost of doing business, and am thankful that I have continued coverage. Not that I pay excessive premiums, but coverage is key, as opposed to cost.

Just the way that I view things…

JT-IN

bar liability - Posted by David Krulac

Posted by David Krulac on March 03, 2002 at 21:13:03:

there was an upscale bar that served a patron, who drove 20 miles crossed over the road and hit somebody traveling in the oposite direction head on. Fortunately no fatalities, but injured driver sued bar and won a jidgement for $7million. The was worth less than that and ended up going out of business.

Another case an underage drinker got into a 1 car accident with a tree and sued the bar for serving them!

David Krulac

Liquor Liability - Posted by Tim_Cleveland

Posted by Tim_Cleveland on February 28, 2002 at 21:00:14:

In general, liquor liability attaches to any person or estblishment who served any alcoholic beverages in any amount to anyone within period of time such that that volume of alcohol, no matter how small, contributed to intoxication that subsequently resulted in an accident. In other words, if someone had a single drink or even half a drink in one establishment, left there and had 20 drinks someowhere else, the place where he had the one drink will be sued and will be held liable. This establishment may be held less liable than the second, but it will be held liable. It also doesn’t matter that the one drink they had at the first place was not enough to make him drunk when he left. That drink contributed to the intoxication so the person or establishment is liable. Thsi has been established by lawsuit after lawsuit and some states even have statutes that spell this out. You serve, your liable.

What makes the article interesting is that the story does not say that these people were “served” by the establishment that is being sued, but rather that they drank there. The allegation is that the establishment, probably purposely catering to an underage crowd, has accepted responsibility of this underage crowd and as the artcile eludes to, is responsible to monitor and correct their activity. I cannot guarantee how this will flesh out, but I bet teh horel or its insurers will pay handsomely to make this “go away.” It will be more costly to defend the suit especially given the emotions that surround cases like this.

What it comes down to is that a young, vibrant inteligent young lady was killed in a tragic set of events. Somebody must pay, and the attornies know how to find the deepest pockets. The kids driving the other car are probably judgement proof, no high limits of insurance, no money and the plaintiffs attornies may even spin the event to make them sound like victims of this reckless and dangerous hotel operation. In this case the deep pocket is that of the hotel owners. Not the way things should be by any rational persons assessment, but the way it is nonetheless.

JT said it well, buy insurance for eventualities like this. Incorporate so that you will be protected from personal exposure to this type of suit. When you get an increased premium, grin and bear it, because without that insurance, you may not be in business for very long. It is the spiraling judgements that come about under circumstances like this that makes insurance coverage increasingly expensive. You can be the knight in shining armor who decides to not particpate in this seemingly endless cycle by not buying high limits of insurance for the plaitiffs bar to “target,” but I wouldn’t.

Just my thoughts.

Tim

Re: Hotel owner sued for DUI-death - Posted by Tim Fierro (Tacoma, WA)

Posted by Tim Fierro (Tacoma, WA) on February 28, 2002 at 17:54:51:

JT,

On what basis did they determine you were liable?

I am trying to figure out how your establishment could have been exposed for liability. Was it because the driver had over the limit before leaving your place?

I know you said your insurance covered it, but it still must have made you wake up to what you could be sued for.

Re: Liquor Liability - Posted by JohnBoy

Posted by JohnBoy on March 01, 2002 at 08:17:07:

If the rules follow by saying if you serve, your liable…then why not sue the city, county and state along with the businesses being sued??? Hey, they issued the business and liquor licenses to allow these establishments to serve the alcohol! Then lets not let the manufacturers and distributors off the hook! They served the business establishment the alcohol that served the public! Why stop at just the businesses??? LOL

Re: Liquor Liability - Posted by JT-IN

Posted by JT-IN on February 28, 2002 at 22:13:23:

Thanks Tim, for explaining this so thoroughly. That is expactly what happened in this instance.

Insurance is still the least expensive and most comprehensive way to achieve asset protection. I better get some more. LOL

Thanks again…

JT-IN

Bout time for some more Ribs, heh…?

Re: Hotel owner sued for DUI-death - Posted by JT-IN

Posted by JT-IN on February 28, 2002 at 20:46:56:

Tim:

“On what basis did they determine you were liable?”

More than anything, of the three places that this guy had been that night, (mine being the first stop), I by far had the deeper pockets. When a lawsuit occurs, as has been harped on here over and over, the plaintiff will seek the one with the most assets. It was plainly obvious that I had numerous successful businesses, although in seperate corps, and by far the better insurance coverage, which also gave me the best representation, as well.

Similarly, I had a lady slip and fall on (what she said was a plant leaf, in a different establishment) returning to her table from the ladies room. A rather large gal, and did some knee damage. The husband sued for loss of his wifes services; (I wonder what the hell he was doing to her knee…). And She sued for damages and loss of income, etc. The insurance co settled with them, for a lot less than what it would have cost to defend the suit. Now what did I do wrong in this case? Nothing, but I had good coverge and a successful business. And because I had good coverage, I continued to keep the successful business, just paying higher ins premiums.

These claims never make sense, but are based on your percentage of liability, and you pay that percentage of the loss. If you have deep pockets, (aka good insurance), then you will pay an unfair percentage. It kind of goes along with the fact that no one is responsible for anything that happens to them; it was someone elses fault… !!

Just the way that I view things…

JT-IN

DRAM SHOP ACT - Posted by MichaelNY

Posted by MichaelNY on March 01, 2002 at 12:29:41:

Just a note, because unfortunately I have some extensive experience with this. (with a spin to it)

Everyone may have a different opinion of this but this is happening to me we speak. I have read previous stories of some one ‘has to pay’ etc, but something needs to be done to reform civil tort liability in this country.

Several years ago, I was a 21 year old college student, bartending in my girlfriend’s parents bar. A girl was throwing a suprise party for her boyfriend at the bar I was working (mainly because I was working, I knew him from growing up).

Long story endless, after leaving the bar and ‘racing’ alongside another car load of friends, he slammed into a pole killing himself and severely injuring the girlfriend (as well as 4 other people in the car). The girlfriend sued my ex-girlfriends parents bar who had NO insurance, THEY then dissolved the corp and closed the doors to the bar. She then went on to sue me for 13 million dollars.

I’m being sued for violation of the DRAM SHOP ACT. Many states have this on the books, and it may be what is the basis for this suit mentioned.

It basically states that you can be held liable if injuries are caused by a person who was ‘unlawfully’ served. Which means someone underage or continuing to serve someone who was ‘visibly intoxicated’.

So, thousands of dollars in att’y fees later, my day in court is in two weeks. I’m actually looking forward to it.

Over time I actually taken a muture approach to the whole thing. It’s not easy being 21 and having people put that on you. I’m now twenty seven, married/family. I earned my degree, did a stint on wall street. Hey- I’m starting out in CREI, things are good. I’m not looking for sympathy, I realize the severity of what happened and I felt bad for the girl.

It’s just that I NEVER felt I did anything wrong. These were thirty year old adults here. I’m all for insurance of businesses and owners should be protecting there employees.

You can sue anyone now a days…the question who’s really to blame?