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Dram Shop Injury Lawyer Discusses Punitive Damages

Pennsylvania permits recovery of punitive damages by persons injured in automobile crashes.  Focht v. Rabada, 268 A.2d 157 (Pa. Super. 1970); McIntire v. Szczyrbak, 39 Pa.D&C.4th 190 (Pa.Com.Pl. 1998); Shelter v. Zeger, 4 Pa.D&C.4th 564 (Pa.Com.Pl. 1988); Long v. Ohler, 1 Pa.D&C.4th 102 (Pa.Com.Pl. 1988).  In Focht, the Superior Court held that “driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor with its great potential for harm and serious injury, may, under certain circumstances, be deemed ‘outrageous conduct’ and ‘reckless indifference to the interests of others sufficient to allow the imposition of punitive damages.”  Id. at 160 (emphasis added).

Plaintiff is not suggesting that punitive damages would be appropriate if Defendant, Matthew Maher’s blood alcohol was .08 and he struck the Plaintiff while driving at the speed limit.  Plaintiff is not suggesting that punitive damages would be appropriate if Defendant, MadRiver’s bartender had not served Maher while he was visibly intoxicated and had not sought to intentionally get him drunk.  That is what the Court in Focht meant when it held only “certain circumstances” merit imposition of punitive damages in a drunk driving case.

Defendants’ conduct was much, much worse.  Plaintiff has alleged that Defendant, Maher was travelling at 103 mph at the time of the crash and that his blood alcohol level was at least .21 (paragraphs 46 and 55).  Plaintiff has alleged and proven that Defendant, Maher admitted that he operated his vehicle recklessly on the night of the crash (paragraph 30).  He has pled guilty to aggravated manslaughter and driving while intoxicated and was sentenced to five and a half years in prison (paragraph 25).  All of this was enabled by Defendant, MadRiver’s bartender who intentionally got Maher extremely drunk in an attempt to help him forget his troubles.  As fellow professional soccer players with severely injured knees, a strong bond existed between them.  This bartender abused this bond and the result was the needless loss of an innocent life.    Essentially, Defendant, MadRiver put a firearm in Defendant, Maher’s hand, loaded it with bullets and then pointed it directly at Hort Kap.  This qualifies as “outrageous conduct” and “reckless indifference to the interest of others”.  This qualifies as the “certain circumstances” that warrant imposition of punitive damages.

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