Law School Case Brief
Fast Eddie's v. Hall - 688 N.E.2d 1270 (Ind. Ct. App. 1997)
In order for a plaintiff to prevail on a claim for negligence, she must show that: (1) the defendant owed her a duty to exercise reasonable care; (2) the defendant breached that duty by failing to conform its conduct to the requisite standard of care; and (3) the plaintiff sustained injuries which were the proximate cause of the defendant's breach. However, absent a duty, there can be no negligence.
The decedent Teresa Hall, became heavily intoxicated at a tavern owned and operated by defendant Fast Eddie's d/b/a Hyway Tavern, Inc., ("Tavern")and, at the instigation of the Tavern's manager, was removed from the premises. The decedent passed out in her friend's car. Another patron then removed the decedent from the car, drove her to another location, and shot her. Plaintiff Judy Hall, as the administrator of the decedent's estate, filed a lawsuit against the Tavern in Indiana state court alleging that it was negligent per se for violating Ind. Code § 7.1-5-10-15, Indiana's Dram Shot Act, by serving the perpetrator and the decedent alcoholic beverages when they were visibly intoxicated. Hall further argued that the Tavern breached its common law duty of care to provide for the decedent's safety by failing to protect her from the perpetrator's criminal acts of sexual assault and murder. The Tavern filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. The Tavern appealed.
Was the Tavern liable for the criminal acts committed by a patron against the decedent, another patron?
The appellate court reversed the trial court's judgment. The court ruled that the Tavern did not have a duty to protect the decedent from the patron's criminal acts of sexual assault and murder because such acts were not reasonably foreseeable. The Tavern had no knowledge of any act by the patron that placed it on notice that he had the propensity to commit such crimes. The Tavern did not gratuitously assume the duty to provide for the decedent's safety merely by requesting that she be removed from the premises. Finally, even if the Tavern had violated the Dram Shop Act, Ind. Code § 7.1-5-10-15.5(b), by furnishing alcohol to the offending-patron while he was visibly intoxicated, the tavern's breach of its statutory duty was not the proximate cause of the decedent's death; the patron's intentional criminal acts were the intervening cause of the decedent's death.
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