Friday, May 24, 2013
C.A. Rejects Civil Conspiracy Theory in Suit Over Drunk Driving
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A group of possibly intoxicated passengers in a vehicle whose allegedly intoxicated driver struck a cyclist cannot be held liable for the resulting injuries, based on a theory that they conspired to serve alcohol to the driver, who was not of legal drinking age, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Four yesterday affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Roy L. Paul’s order dismissing Chelsea Meyer, Tara Rohar, Ashley Carlson, and Alexandra Milutin from the suit by Adam Rybicki.
Rybicki was severely injured while riding his bicycle in Torrance early on the morning of April 3, 2011. He was hit by a vehicle driven by Jaclyn Garcia, who was travelling southbound on the wrong side of the road.
News accounts of the collision reported that Rybicki was part of the Doctor’s Ride, a regular group event that includes physicians and other professionals, and that a surgeon in the group rushed to his aid. Garcia’s age was reported as 19.
Rybicki, who was 49 at the time of the accident, and his wife sued the five women and Garrett Shoemaker, alleging that the women—all of them below the legal drinking age of 21—had attended a party at Shoemaker’s home the night of April 2, lasting into the morning hours of April 3; that Meyer, Rohar, Carlson, and Milutin had purchased alcoholic beverages and brought them to Shoemaker’s home before or after the party; and that Shoemaker had furnished the beverages to Garcia.
The complaint alleged that Garcia was liable as the driver; that Shoemaker was liable under Civil Code Sec. 1714, which says that an adult who furnishes alcohol to a person under 21 at the adult’s home may be held liable for resulting damages; and that the other women were liable because they conspired with Shoemaker to violate Sec. 1714.
Paul sustained the women’s demurrers, and Justice Thomas Willhite, writing for the Court of Appeal, said his ruling was correct.
Willhite explained that Sec. 1714 was part of a 1978 legislative response to a series of state Supreme Court decisions that had rejected a common-law rule absolving social hosts of responsibility for subsequent drunk driving injuries caused by their guests. The rationale, the justice said, is that in a drunk driving case, it is the consumption, not the furnishing, of alcohol that is the legal cause of the injuries.
In enacting Sec. 1714, the Legislature expressly abrogated those decisions and reinstated the rule of the common law, subject to the narrow exceptions for social hosts and licensed purveyors of alcoholic beverages who serve alcohol to minors.
The plaintiffs’ conspiracy theory, Willhite said, is inconsistent with the intent of the legislation.
The justice reasoned:
“Although the claim against Shoemaker appears to fall within the section 1714, subdivision (d) exception, plaintiffs cannot bootstrap respondents into that exception by alleging that respondents conspired with or aided and abetted Shoemaker by providing alcoholic beverages that were furnished to Garcia. Subdivision (b) of section 1714 unequivocally states that ‘the furnishing of alcoholic beverages is not the proximate cause of injuries resulting from intoxication.’ This provision necessarily precludes liability against anyone who furnished alcohol to someone who caused injuries due to intoxication…. Because respondents are not alleged to have furnished alcohol to Garcia at their residences, plaintiffs’ claims against them are barred because, as a matter of statutory law, plaintiffs cannot establish that respondents’ actions proximately caused plaintiffs’ injuries.”
Attorneys on appeal were Daniel M. Graham for the plaintiffs; Robert W. Armstrong of Demler, Armstrong & Rowland for Meyer; and Gregory J. Bramlage and Richard S. Gower of Inglis, Ledbetter, Gower & Warriner for Rohar.
Carlson and Milutin did not respond to the appeal.
The case is Rybicki v. Carlson, 13 S.O.S. 2666.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company