In a case involving two deaths caused by an intoxicated guest while he drove home from playing golf at the Easton, Pa. club, an appeal claiming court errors and misconduct by the club’s attorneys was denied and an earlier judgment that the club was not at fault was upheld.
A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld a ruling by the Northampton (Pa.) County Court of Common Pleas which held that Riverview Country Club in Easton, Pa. was not liable for two deaths caused by an intoxicated guest while he drove home from a golf outing, according to a report published in The Pennsylvania Record, a legal journal for the state, on June 12.
The ruling denied a motion by the estates of the two victims, who appealed the County Court of Common Pleas’ October 2013 judgment, claiming court errors and misconduct by the golf course’s attorneys. The panel reviewed each claim and ruled that none of them held merit, The Record reported.
The facts established by the lower court’s trial say that on June 9, 2009, James Black participated in his weekly golf round at Riverview, The Record reported. According to the Superior Court’s memo written by Judge Patricia Jenkins, Black consumed multiple beers prior to starting his round of golf, another beer while playing, then poured a few glasses from pitchers purchased by other guests at the club’s bar.
Shortly after leaving the premises, Black’s car veered across the center line of the road and struck an oncoming motorcycle, killing Patrick Petti and Barbara Warren, The Record reported. Black eventually negotiated a guilty plea and is currently serving a five to 10-year sentence for two counts of homicide by vehicle, one DUI count and one count for reckless driving.
The victims’ families filed a wrongful death suit against Black and Riverview, and during that trial the defense’s accident reconstructionist testified that distracted driving caused the accident, The Record reported. Black said during his criminal trial that he was reaching for his phone to read a text, and police evidence showed that he had received a text at the time of the crash. The defense toxicologist also said that it is possible that Black showed no signs of intoxication at the golf course, according to Jenkins.
The civil jury ruled that Black’s negligence caused the deaths of Petti and Warren, but that Riverview did not sell or give him alcohol while he was visibly intoxicated, an action that would have violated Pennsylvania’s Dram Shop Act, The Record reported. The act makes it unlawful for an establishment licensed to serve alcohol to furnish liquor to anybody who is visibly intoxicated.
The court ruled that the Dram Shop Act did not apply because there was no proof that Black was visibly intoxicated when he drank at the club’s bar. The plaintiffs made the connection that because Black had a .166 blood alcohol content at the time of the accident, he must have consumed alcohol at Riverview. The court ruled that while that could be true, there was still no evidence that employees served Black while he was obviously drunk, The Record reported.
The plaintiffs also appealed based on the lower court’s ruling that their expert witness could not comment during the trial on matters beyond his official report. The toxicologist was precluded from saying that Black was intoxicated by alcohol consumed at Riverview, a finding that was not in his pre-trial report, The Record reported.
The appeal also claimed that the defense attorney’s conduct during the trial unfairly prejudiced the jury. One cited example was the attorney’s closing arguments, which included a statement that the plaintiffs did not call any witnesses from the bar, because none of them could testify that they saw Black was intoxicated, The Record reported. The inference was not entered as evidence, so the judge ordered the jury to disregard the statement, a remedy that the Superior Court accepted.
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