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In cases in which a bar has sold alcohol to an underage person, and the underage person has then been involved in a tort as a result of intoxication, the application of general negligence principles and the duty/risk analysis require that, before the bar can be held liable, it must be proven that (1) the bar failed to exercise the care of a reasonable person under the circumstances and (2) the bar committed some "affirmative act" which "increased the peril" posed by the minor's intoxication. Merely serving alcohol to an underage person who becomes intoxicated and causes injury to others or to himself is not an "affirmative act" which can result in liability of the bar.
Plaintiff was a college student at the time he was injured in a physical altercation and a related truck-pedestrian collision. Though testimony contained many contradictions, plaintiff, who was "mildly intoxicated," was assaulted by defendant minor as defendant minor and defendant friends came out of defendant bar. Defendant minor had gone into defendant bar, was not asked for any identification or proof of his age, and bought a pitcher of beer. After the physical confrontation, defendant minor got into a truck that ultimately collided with plaintiff's person. Plaintiff sued and defendants minor and friends settled. Jury found for plaintiff and attributed 40 percent of actual damages to defendant bar. The jury also imposed 45 percent of its punitive damages award upon defendant bar. Defendant bar challenged the decision.
Under the circumstances, was it proper to hold the defendant bar liable for the injury sustained by the plaintiff?
The judgment was reversed. The court held that the defendant bar had nothing to do with the altercation between defendant minor and plaintiff and its aftermath which all occurred away from the bar's premises. Further, the punitive damages statute did not allow the imposition of punitive damages against defendant bar, an entity that contributed to defendant minor's intoxication.