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Lucas Oil vendor not entitled to summary judgment in dram shop case

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It should be up to the trial court or a jury to determine whether a vendor in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis should be held responsible for serving alcohol to a man who later hit two children while driving home after a game.

Trenton Gaff was intoxicated when he hit 12-year-olds Tierra Rae Pierson and January Canada with his vehicle as they walked along the side of a road around 6 p.m. Gaff had consumed alcohol before attending an Indianapolis Colts game, where he also drank alcohol, and then consumed more alcohol after the game before driving home. His blood-alcohol content was 0.200; he later pleaded guilty to Class B felony operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.15 or greater causing death. Pierson died as a result of the impact.

Both girls’ parents filed lawsuits alleging that Centerplate, the vendor at Lucas Oil that sold alcoholic beverages to Gaff, negligently failed to restrict the sale of alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons, including Gaff. It is unknown who actually sold Gaff the alcohol because volunteers from nonprofits serve alcohol at the game in exchange for a cut of the profits. The trial court granted Centerplate’s motion for summary judgment, concluding there was no evidence that a Centerplate employee or designee served Gaff when he was visibly intoxicated and that the alcohol provided at the game was the proximate cause of the accident.

In a combined appeal, the plaintiffs argued that, although the identity of the server is not known at this time, a reasonable inference may be drawn that Gaff would have exhibited visible signs of intoxication by the time he purchased beer from a Centerplate agent inside the stadium. And, as the sole source of alcohol sales inside the stadium, Centerplate is responsible for the actions of its agents, and the designated evidence allows an inference that Centerplate, through its agents, had knowledge Gaff was intoxicated when served.

“The designated record could be said to support one of several scenarios, that is, Gaff drank before and during the game to the point where he would have exhibited signs of intoxication observable by the stadium volunteer selling him beer; Gaff drank to excess only after leaving the stadium; or Gaff was intoxicated inside the stadium but did not exhibit visible signs of intoxication,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote. “Ultimately, it is the role of the fact-finder, and not the court in summary judgment proceedings, to determine issues of credibility or relative weight of the evidence – for example, whether self-reporting of alcohol consumption was inaccurate or an expert opinion based upon a toxicology report was flawed. Too, even though Gaff reportedly drank in different venues, it is the role of the fact-finder to determine whether any one drink was served to Gaff by someone knowing him to be visibly intoxicated.”

The appellate court also rejected Centerplate’s claims that no liability can ensue because no particular server to Gaff has been identified. To do so would circumvent public policy associated with the Dram Shop Act, Bailey wrote in Tierra Rae Pierson, a Minor, Deceased, by her next friend and parent, Betina Pierson, and Betina Pierson, Individually, and Ryan Pierson, Individually v. Service America Corporation, et al., 49A02-1307-CT-561.
 

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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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