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One of the Purposes of Tort Law - Deterrence

Posted by William K. Thayer | Apr 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

One of my partners is in mediation at the very moment I am writing this blog on a case that involves a lawsuit against a drunk driver and the bar that served her.  The woman who caused the head-on crash that hurt our client had a BAC reading shortly after the crash which was almost two and a half times the legal limit for alcohol in the bloodstream.  The bar which had continued to serve her after she was stumbling drunk is denying responsibility and offering little to help compensate the client as the mediation unfolds.  Frustrating, to say the least.

Another of my partners has a different case he is bringing against a local tavern which likewise involved an over-served drunk bar patron driving away from the bar, crossing the center line, and hitting another of our clients head-on.  That client's injuries were and are, as is so often the case, catastrophic.  In the lawsuit against the drunk driver and the bar, we have learned that the bar's liquor liability over-service insurance coverage is less than a third of the typical amount of commercial liability coverage that any responsible business normally carries.  To obtain anywhere near sufficient compensation to even cover past and future medical expenses and impaired earnings (not to mention any pain and suffering, disfigurement, or other non-economic damages) for our severely injured client, will require chasing the personal assets of the bar and possibly its individual owners as well after obtaining judgment.  

In a similar case I handled for yet another client several years back, a local bar over-served a patron who likewise drove away, crossed the center line, and hit the car that our client was riding as a passenger in, head-on.  Her legs were crushed, and she suffered traumatic brain injury, as often happens in highway speed head-on collisions.  As we took depositions of the bar's owners and employees, we learned that the corporate mind-set was “ass-backwards”, as the saying goes, of what it should have been.  The message from the top of the food-chain in the management of the bar's servers seemed to be more – get the customers happily intoxicated so that they will buy more drinks, rather than what it should have been – keep a count on what every patron has been served and watch them closely so that if they get to be apparently under the influence they can be cut off from the sale of any further alcohol.  In that case, the bar fortunately had sufficient liability coverage, and its insurer ended up paying a damage settlement that made sense in relation to the harm that the tavern's irresponsible profit-motivated harm had caused to our client.

Which brings me to the point of this blog.  One of the purposes of what we do, pursuing tort claims for our clients and suing persons and entities which violate the duty that we all owe – to not engage in careless or reckless behavior that puts others at risk – is to deter wrongful behavior.  Wrongful behavior like that of a tavern or bar elevating its desire for profits from alcohol sales above its duty to not send its patrons out drunk onto the roadways of our community where they will be likely to maim or even kill innocent people.  

Purveyors of alcohol and other mind-altering substances owe a special duty to the community they operate in, and to all of us.  They need to operate with a business model that will minimize the risk of booze sales to minors, and one which causes their staff to likewise be vigilant and not over-serve their adult customers.  They need to hire, train, and supervise their staff responsibly to do all they can to prevent tragedies such as those experienced by our clients recounted above and many other like victims who, over the course of bars and taverns being allowed to sell spirits, have been hurt by irresponsible alcohol sales.  Recognizing that no person or business is perfect, and that despite best efforts incidents can occur, bar and tavern owners and operators should carry ample liquor liability insurance with substantial policy limits in place to mitigate all of the losses that might be caused by a failure on their or an employee's part to prevent harm.

If a bar or other entity or person is allowed to behave irresponsibly over and over, without anyone taking it or them to task for their malfeasance, they won't stop their bad behavior.  More innocent people will be hurt.  More unnecessary fatalities will occur.  Obviously, one very important objective in handling cases at Schauermann Thayer is obtaining fair compensation for our clients.  We also recognize, however, the deterrent effect that the claims and lawsuits we bring on behalf of our clients can have on wrongdoers – hopefully driving home a message that they had better clean up their act.

Suffice it to say that being able to be a part of actions that might in any way help curb future harm to the people of our community is a major positive for me.  It is one reason of many that I take satisfaction in working on the plaintiff side of the cases that we handle.

About the Author

William K. Thayer

Bill Thayer is one of the founding partners of the Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards law firm. Bill is licensed in both Oregon and Washington, and has been practicing law since 1980. Bill advises and represents clients in personal injury and wrongful death claims and litigation, including automobile collision, motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian injury and death cases, dog bite cases, construction site injury claims, and a myriad of other types of injury and death claims. While many claims are settled through negotiation or mediation, Mr. Thayer has litigated, arbitrated and/or tried to verdict many cases for his clients. He is also frequently appointed by courts and other lawyers to serve as an arbitrator of tort claims. Bill enjoys writing as one of his varied recreational interests when he is not working.

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