Alcohol-fueled accident leads to complex liability issues

Alcohol-fueled accident leads to complex liability issues

It often goes without saying that alcohol consumption can seriously complicate your life. Everyone has a slightly different reaction to being intoxicated, but many drinkers behave in ways that they might not behave when sober.

From a legal perspective, alcohol consumption can complicate all types of incidents ranging from personal injury accidents to negligence to criminal activity. A California appellate court recently ruled on a case that raises important questions about what duty of care individuals owe to those who have injured themselves while intoxicated. The lawsuit stems from a 2008 incident in which a man drunkenly fell off of a cliff.

He had been attending a party earlier in the evening and had continued to drink after being picked up by his roommate and a female friend. After more drinking, the trio went to watch the sun rise on some cliffs above the Sacramento River.

The plaintiff fell off the cliff and tumbled down onto some rocks below. Rather than calling 911, the two defendants waded into the river to search for him. They avoided calling police for fear of getting into trouble. When they couldn’t find him, they went home and concocted a story about the man committing suicide. They eventually decided to go to the police, and rescuers found the man 30 minutes later.

The plaintiff sued his two drinking companions for $51 million, alleging negligence and willful misconduct, among other allegations. A lower court granted summary judgment to the female defendant. However, an appellate court ruled that two of the plaintiff’s claims should be heard by a jury because they are “triable issues of material fact.” These issues include “whether [the woman] breached a duty owed to [Plaintiff] by bringing him to the cliff side when she knew he was intoxicated and waiting several hours to call 911 or otherwise summon aid after the fall.”

Cases like this are rarely ever “cut and dried.” There are probably numerous arguments to be made for why all three individuals are responsible for what happened and, conversely, why none of them are. Thankfully, at least some of the issues presented by this lawsuit will have a chance to be scrutinized by a jury.

Source: Courthouse News Service, " Friends May Be Liable for Man's Drunken Cliff Fall," Jeff D. Gorman, July 14, 2014

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