Zeller v. Scafe – Missouri Dram Shop Remedies in Drunk Driving Cases

Zeller v. Scafe – Missouri Dram Shop Remedies in Drunk Driving Cases

Dram shop laws generally make it possible for alcohol servers, bar owners, and to a far lesser extent, social hosts, to be found civilly liable if a customer/guest becomes intoxicated and causes injury – usually by drinking and driving.

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Missouri’s Dram Shop law is codified in section537.053 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, and is the exclusive remedy available to third parties injured as a result of sale or distribution of liquor to an intoxicated driver. Until 2002, in order to prove a dram shop claim, plaintiff had to prove the seller/provider of alcohol was criminally convicted for his or her actions in order for a civil claim to be brought. However, the law was changed to state that a person can be held liable for selling or providing alcohol to a guest or patron when there is “clear and convincing evidence” defendant knew or should have known the alcohol was served to someone under 21 or someone who was visibly intoxicated.

Visible intoxication isn’t established prima facie by blood-alcohol content, and there usually needs to be other evidence – direct or circumstantial – of intoxication.

Social host liability, however, is far less clear and it isn’t specified in state statute.

This appears to have been the hurdle for plaintiff in Zeller v. Scafe, although the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District ruled there was not a final appealable order from which it could derive jurisdiction for a thorough review. Plaintiff must wait until all matters are resolved at trial level before launching an appeal.

According to court records, plaintiff’s son (decedent) attended a “keg” party thrown by one of defendants at defendant’s home. At that party, host defendant allowed numerous underage guests to drink and/or possess intoxicating liquor, and he further knowingly did not stop them from possessing and/or drinking alcohol.

The party went into the following morning. At 6:30 a.m., decedent and two other friends left the party in a Jeep provided by another party guest. Initially, decedent drove, but he got tired. Another friend offered to take over. Decedent crawled onto the console of the vehicle. While the other friend was driving, he failed to negotiate a curve. He lost control of the car and veered off the road. He struck an embankment and the vehicle rolled.

As a result, decedent was ejected from the vehicle. He suffered numerous and extensive injuries, including multiple skull fractures. As he lay dying at the crash site, the driver panicked and fled on foot. He called for his grandfather to pick him up, and his grandfather did so.

Meanwhile, another passenger called 911 and ran to a nearby residence for help. Decedent was transported by air to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Plaintiff filed a lawsuit for damages stemming from the death of her son. She asserted claims against the party host, the owner of the car, the driver of the car, the driver’s grandfather and the other passenger.

Claims against the vehicle owner, vehicle driver and driver’s grandfather were later settled out-of-court.

There remained, however, claims against the party host and the other passenger. Both defendants filed motions to dismiss claims against them. Later, the other passenger filed a cross-petition for damages against the party host and also against plaintiff, as decedent’s representative, alleging decedent’s conduct was negligent and outrageous.

Circuit court granted passenger’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims against her. Months later, court also granted party host’s motion to dismiss claims brought by plaintiff and the other passenger. However, the court noted not all issues had been resolved, as it had yet to determine how to proceed with the pending claim brought by other passenger against plaintiff.

Nonetheless, plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court made no ruling on the merit of plaintiff’s appeal, instead indicating not all issues had been fully resolved at the trial level, and therefore, it did not have jurisdiction to weigh the appeal.

If you or a loved one has been harmed in a St. Louis drunk driving accident, it’s imperative to contact an experienced legal team to determine the best course of action.

Additional Resources:
Zeller v. Scafe, March 3, 2015, Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District

More Blog Entries:
Griffin v. Kandi Technologies, et al. – Go-Kart Product Liability Verdict Affirmed, Jan. 30, 2015, St. Louis Injury Lawyer Blog

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Ryan R. Cox & Associates, LLC

Ryan R. Cox & Associates, LLC is a litigation law firm that represents individuals and families in serious personal injury and wrongful death claims throughout Missouri. We help people who have been injured in all types of accidents—including car or truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, slip and fall accidents, and much more. Whether your injury is something that can cause long-term issues like a brain injury or spinal cord injury, or it is something you’ll likely make a full recovery from, we are here to help.

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