Sunday, October 25, 2009

Liability for allowing friend to drive drunk?

Here is a link to the disturbing story of a woman who killed a child while driving drunk a few days ago. According to the story, a 31 year old woman got drunk at a party and then drove away with seven little girls in the car. She crashed the car, took her own daughter out of the car and ran away leaving the other six girls to fend for themselves. One of them, an 11 year old, died on the side of the road. The driver had more than one and half times the legal limit in her blood stream. The torts issue arises out of the fact that reportedly, more than one person at the party confronted the woman about driving in her condition but aparently noone tried to actually stop her. The story states that one of the woman's friends told her boyfriend that she was not fit to drive. The boyfriend confronted her and when she insisted on driving, he pulled his 14-month-old boy out of the car. Obviously, the driver should be liable for her conduct. In fact, a torts claim may be the least of her worries as she will be charged with manslaughter. But should the other people in the party who knew she was drunk and intended to drive a car full of kids be liabile in tort? Usually, courts do not impose liability on social hosts for allowing friends to drive drunk, but this is so, at least in part, because it is assumed that social hosts are not experts at determining when someone is intoxicated or incapable of driving. In a case like this one, when the evidence shows those people did know enough to confront the driver, shouldn't the court allow the case to survive a motion to dismiss and give a chance to the plaintiff to bring their case before a jury? Or, should we limit the possible liability to that of the driver? According to the story, the district attorney is considering bringing criminal charges against the bystanders who did not stop the woman from driving. If their conduct is in fact a violation of a criminal statute, doesn't that provide support for a claim in tort law? On the other hand, there is this question, raised by someone else, "what if the adults at the party took away [the woman's] keys or otherwise prevented her from driving, and she turned not to be legally intoxicated, would she have a claim against them?" Go here for the disturbing details of the story (I have left out some details that make the woman's conduct even more reprehensible) and here for some commentary and links to more information. This has been an interesting year for stories related to issues of liability for alcohol related injuries. For the other stories I have discussed on this issue go here. Thanks to Prof. Jonathan Turley for this story.

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