Supreme Court reverses discharge of bar from dramshop case: issue left to jury on "visible intoxication."
The Supreme Court overturned a decision of the Court of Appeals last week and reinstated a "dramshop" claim against Bennigan's. The suit was filed on behalf of two families who lost loved ones in an alcohol-influenced motor vehicle fatality. They sued three alleged alcohol providers, claiming that all three contributed to the intoxicated state of the at-fault motorist, while he was visibly intoxicated. As with most dramshop claims, the drunk, his companions and the alleged servers all provided self-serving, vague-at-best and hardly credible testimony. A few years ago, the Engler Majority activists "amended" state law and the rules of evidence to raise the standard of proof for showing that a drunk was visibly intoxicated when served by a licensed establishment.
Relying on this higher standard of proof, Court of Appeals Judges Bandstra and Whitbeck dismissed the claims against Bennigan's and another server, arguing that a reasonable jury could not find against them, even if the facts were interpreted liberally in favor of the party opposing a motion for summary disposition [as required by law]. The Supreme Court agreed with the dissenting Judge's thoughtful opinion recognizing that this maze of vague, self-serving and contradictory testimony could not be "cherry-picked" to favor one side or the other: it raised legitimate fact questions for the jury.
Five of the seven justices held that the lower court had abused its power by deciding how much weight to give contradictory testimony and reinstated the case against Bennigan's, although it upheld the dismissal of the claim against the first of the three involved alcohol sellers. The consolidated cases are Salt v. Gillespie, et al and Bolanowski v. Gillespie, et al. The facts are discussed more fully in our April 29, 2009, web log entry which can be found under the "Alcohol, taverns and dramshop claims" heading.