Decedent was a 13-year-old boy. Two older teen passengers were seriously injured, as was the teen driver.
The 19-year-old behind the wheel had purchased liquor from a local convenience store that had a reputation among youth for selling booze to underage consumers. The crash, which occurred in Tuscaloosa, occurred when driver careened off the road and struck a tree. Although the passengers were wearing their seat belts, the sheer force of impact caused them to be ejected anyway.
The case was significant for a few reasons. First, it is believed to be the largest dram shop lawsuit verdict affirmed by that state’s supreme court ever. Secondly, it affirms the fact that punitive damages – which are intended to punish a wrongdoer for egregious or especially reckless actions – can be sought even a plaintiff is comparatively at-fault (as the driver was in this case). It also allows that punitive damages to be determined on a per-plaintiff basis, rather than as a whole and then divvied up. Finally, it affirms the right of dram shop plaintiffs to pierce the corporate veil in order to hold business owners personally liable for such damages, which combined with the hefty punitive damages creates a substantial incentive to prevent such action in the future. Continue reading →