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Estate of Cummings by Cummings Heck v. PPG Indus. - 651 N.E.2d 305 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995)

Rule:

A person who merely supplies money that he knows will be used to purchase an alcoholic beverage, but neither possesses nor controls the liquor itself, does not "furnish" an alcoholic beverage so as to impose civil liability for injuries to a third person under the Dram Shop Act.

Facts:

The employees of defendant PPG Industries, Inc. organized a party for third-shift PPG employees at the Hornville Tavern. To advertise the party, PPG employees posted notices at the PPG plant, which stated that minors were not permitted to attend the party. The employees who attended the party contributed money towards the party. PPG Management, who had approved of the party, also contributed money to defray its cost. Duffy, an underage PPG employee, attended the party, drank alcoholic beverages, and became intoxicated. After Duffy left the party, he drove north and collided with the car driven by Murlin Franklin in which Timothy Lee Cummings was a passenger. Cummings was killed in the accident and Franklin sustained injuries. After having learned of the accident, PPG management ended the party. Duffy was convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated resulting in death. Cummings and Franklin each brought separate lawsuits against PPG, alleging that PPG was liable under Indiana’s Dram Shop Act and under a common-law theory of negligence. In response, PPG filed a motion for summary judgment that the trial court granted. Cummings and Franklin appealed.

Issue:

Was an employer, whose employees had had a party at which alcohol was served, liable under Indiana’s Dram Shop Act?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that PPG was not liable under Indiana’s Dram Shop Act, as it never possessed or controlled the alcoholic beverages that its underage employee drank. The record revealed that the tavern, not PPG, was responsible for dispensing and serving the alcoholic beverages at the party. Thus, PPG was not the active means by and through which the employee obtained the alcoholic beverages. Although PPG supplied some of the money used to purchase the alcoholic beverages and food for the party, it did not “furnish” the alcoholic beverages to the employee to invoke liability under the act. Hence, the Court averred that the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of PPG was proper. The Court concluded that the trial court correctly concluded that, as a matter of law, PPG did not violate Indiana’s Dram Shop Act, and that PPG did not owe a duty to supervise the party or otherwise to control the employee's behavior sufficient to sustain a common law negligence claim.

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