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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. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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