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Torts—Intervening Superseding Cause in Dramshop Action

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Nov 02, 2021 | 0 Comments

Torres v. JAI Dining Services Inc., No. CV-20-0294-PR (November 2, 2021) (J. Timmer)

DRAM SHOP CLAIM STANDS WHERE DRIVER WHO BECOMES INTOXICATED AT CLUB, EVENTUALLY DRIVES HOME AND SLEEPS THEN DRIVES AGAIN WHILE STILL INTOXICATED CAUSING FATAL COLLISION/DRIVING HOME AND SLEEPING IS NOT AN INTERVENING SUPERSEDING CAUSE
 
Cesar Villanueva became intoxicated at the Jaguar's Club in Phoenix, got in a dispute and was forced to leave by bouncers at 2:30 a.m.. He drove to his brother's house where he stayed about an hour.  Around 4 a.m. A friend then drove Villanueva to his house where he slept for a short time, got up and proceeded to drive his girlfriend's friend home.  Shortly after 5 a.m. having dropped off the friend, he drove away colliding with another car and killing Guadalupe Suarez and Jesus Guillen.  

Thereafter Villanueva was convicted of two counts of manslaughter and is now in prison. The surviving families sued Villanueva for negligence and the Jaguar Club for negligent overserving Villanueva.  The defendant's motion for summary judgment based upon the argument that choosing to drive after sleeping at home constituted a superseding intervening cause was denied by the trial court.  A jury ultimately awarded plaintiffs $2 million in compensatory damages apportioning fault 60% to Villanueva and 40% to the Jaguar Club.  The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the trial court based upon the intervening superseding cause argument. The Arizona Supreme Court reversed and remanded the court of appeals decision.
 
A liquor licensee has a duty to exercise due care in serving alcohol to patrons like Villanueva to protect members of the travelling public. As to the issue of proximate causation:


The  foreseeable  risk  that an intoxicated  patron might  drive and cause an accident that  injures  or  kills  someone  does  not  vanish solely because  the  patron  initially  returns  home  with  the  intent  to  sleep,  eat, change clothes,  or  do  myriad  other  things  before deciding  to  leave home and resume driving.  Intoxicated people frequently make foolhardy decisions, including refusing to stay put and sober up before getting behind the  wheel. We  agree  with  Plaintiffs  that  the  risk  created  by  a  liquor  licensee  overserving  a  patron  exists  as  long  as  the  patron  drives while intoxicated, regardless  of when or where the patron travels and even with a short stop at home.  

CLICK HERE to read the full case.

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".

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