Strip club must face suit of pedestrian hit by drunk waitress

August 5, 2015

A pedestrian severely injured when he was struck by a strip club waitress driving home from work may proceed with a civil lawsuit against the Indianapolis club that furnished her free alcohol, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Wednesday.

Jerry Coleman Buchanan was walking west in the middle of the eastbound lane of Kessler Boulevard near Ditch Road sometime after 3:30 a.m. on July 29, 2007, when he was struck by a vehicle driven by Candice Vowell. Buchanan suffered severe brain trauma and several broken bones.

Vowell was on her way home from Brad’s Gold Club on the city’s west side, where she worked as a cocktail waitress. She claims she never saw Buchanan and didn’t stop at the scene of the crash, but when she arrived home she told her husband she’d hit something. Her husband went to the scene and saw a pedestrian had been injured, and when he returned home, Vowell called police around 6 a.m. to admit she was involved.

Some three hours after the crash, Vowell’s blood-alcohol level measured 0.06. The level is below the legal limit, but toxicologists concluded her blood alcohol content would have been about 0.10 to 0.128 at the time of the crash.

Vowell ultimately pleaded guilty to Class D felony operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated causing serious bodily injury, receiving a one-year suspended sentence.

The record indicates the club provided employees alcohol, though the amount Vowell consumed during her shift before the crash is disputed.

“(W)e conclude that the trial court properly denied (Brad's Gold Club’s) motion for summary judgment under the Dram Shop Act because there is a genuine issue of fact concerning whether BGC furnished alcohol to Vowell with actual knowledge that she was visibly intoxicated,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the panel.  

“The trial court also properly denied BGC’s summary judgment motion as it pertains to the common law because there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether BGC breached its duty to supervise Vowell’s conduct during her shift.  We further conclude that the trial court appropriately denied Buchanan’s cross-motion for summary judgment because, even assuming the imputed knowledge doctrine applies, the designated evidence establishes that Vowell had no knowledge of her own level of intoxication to be imputed to BGC.”

Vowell acknowledged the club had a policy allowing bartenders and waitresses one free drink at the end of shifts, but she said employees also had toasted the coming Brickyard 400 earlier in the day. Toxicologists agreed Vowell’ alcohol intake must have exceeded the two shots of vodka she claimed to have consumed at the club, Riley wrote.

The case is BGC Entertainment, Inc. d/b/a Brad's Gold Club and 3551 Lafayette Road Corp. d/b/a Brad's Gold Club v. Jerry Coleman Buchanan, by His Father and Guardian, Odell Buchanan, 49A05-1408-CT-373.



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