Monday, February 18, 2008

Drunk Drivin' Ain't Stoppin' My Party!

If you're abstinate in the alcoholic sense, prepare to be offended. I not only baptize children, but I'm a'ok with alcohol in moderation.

That being said, let me introduce you to Kelly v. Gwinnell.

The basic facts of the case are thus: The plaintiff in this case was struck by a drunk driver who had just left the house of a fellow employee. While there, he had been offered and did in fact consume alcohol. The plaintiff, who had been hit, sued not only the drunk driver, but his fellow employee who served him alcohol and, consequently, their employer under the legal doctrine of respondeat superior.

(The reason for the latter was the plaintiff supposed that they were there discussing business and were therefore acting "in the course of their employment", ergo the employer should be liable.)

Normally, one would only sue the drunk driver, but the plaintiff in this case attempted to assert something called social host liability under the theory that the host, serving the alcohol to a person visibly intoxicated, was the original negligent actor and, the drunk driving was the intervening cause of the civily wrong conduct. They claimed that this conduct was a foreseeable consequence of serving the man alcohol and therefore they should be held liable.

I would agree.

Others would not. The reasoning? It's too great of a burden on society to expect people to be responsible for their drunk social guests. I disagree on two levels.

Imposing this type of liability would coerce society into acting more reasonably and responsibly with regard to alcohol consumption, concievably saving people's lives by pressuring social hosts into either not letting their friends drive home that night or not letting their friends get too drunk to drive.

Is this too great a burden to save lives from drunk drivers? I wouldn't say so. I was in a fraternity before I converted. Rather than letting people drive home, we took their keys and made them sleep on the couches. We had plenty of couches for people to sleep on any we honestly never had an incident where someone left the house and got into a drunk driving accident. We also cut people off when we saw they were getting to be too intoxicated by having some members stay sober on that night. Sounds terribly hard, doesn't it? Somehow a bunch of drunken frat kids can seem to keep it together, so I don't see what the big fuss is about.

Furthermore, the original negligent act is causally responsible for the injury to the plaintiff in two legal senses; in "but-for" causation, and proximate cause.

"But-for" causation is merely saying that, but for the defendant's negligence, the injury to the plaintiff would not have happened. Can we say this here? Certainly. But for the defendant serving the driver alcohol, the wreck would not have occured. This is called being the direct cause.

Additionally, the original negligent act is also the proximate or legal cause of the injury because it is foreseeable that a visibly drunk driver, whom you've been feeding alcohol to, will go out and have a wreck if they drive.

So what's the problem then if there's all this legal causation? There's no duty imposed, which is what social host liability is all about. The law is reluctant to impose a duty here because, as I mentioned earlier, it is argued that it's too great a burden on society.

Since when is it too great a burden on society to act proactively to prevent either their friends or potential victims from being hurt? We have Hollywood actors turn out to PETA protests but I havn't heard of anyone camping out in a tree to persuade legislators or judges to begin imposing a duty on social hosts. I guess our party is too important, our decadence is too valuable. Trade my fun for a life? "Never" is the answer of our society.

I remember the words of Cain when I remember the "social hosts" in this case, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

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