Sex, Lies and Videotape

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The case began simply enough. A bar in Scranton served beer to a minor. The minor took the beer out to the parking lot and used the glass to gash out our client’s eye. Under Dram Shop law and cases, a bar is liable if it serves a minor or a drunk and that person hurts someone.

The minor was arrested at the scene. He eventually pleaded guilty to simple assault and underage drinking. Normally a motion for summary judgment is filed only by a defendant. Here, we acted aggressively and filed a motion for summary judgment against the minor defendant, arguing he was negligent as a matter of law because of his guilty plea. A court agreed with us. The only question left in the minor’s case is how high will be the damages he has to pay.

The bar tried everything to avoid liability. The bartender had left the bar, but my partner Jerry Lindheim and I tracked her down to Atlanta. The bartender testified she told the police that the minor was with a group of friends, and she served alcohol to everyone but the minor. She claimed that one of his friends must have given the minor the beer. She testified she didn’t card the minor.

However, the bar manager testified that the minor came in to the pizza side of the bar alone, not with friends. She claimed she carded him and then filled out a Declaration of Age card referring to a NY license that showed he was of age.

The bar has surveillance video. Months after the incident, the bar produced a video of three camera views. The view of the bar conveniently began after the minor had his beer, so the video did not show who gave the minor his beer. The bar claimed that the surveillance video had problems and some of it could not be retrieved. However, the person who worked on the video admitted he cut out some video, like trimming fat off meat, he said. The missing fat, which would presumably show how the minor obtained his beer, could no longer be retrieved.

The arresting officer had left the local police and was serving full time in the military. We tracked her down to Harrisburg. Her deposition blew the case wide open. Contrary to what the bar manager said, the arresting officer testified that on the night of the incident the manager said nothing about carding the minor or filling out a Declaration of Age card. The officer searched the minor and found a valid PA license that showed he was in fact a minor. The officer looked for but did not find a fake NY license that showed he was of age.

Our conclusion: the manager knew the bar was in trouble for serving a minor, and she completed the Declaration of Age card after the incident. What motive did the bar manager have to falsify the Declaration of Age card? It turns out that she was dating the bar owner.

The arresting officer also exposed the bar’s lie with the surveillance video. On the night of the arrest, the bar manager showed the arresting officer video from a half dozen different cameras views, not just three. On the night of the arrest, there was no problem with the videos. The videos showed the minor receiving his beer and also showed he was not in the pizza side where he was allegedly carded.

On the night of the arrest, the officer told the bar manager that she would be back later in the day to pick up the video. When the officer returned, surprisingly the bar manager could not give her the video. The bar delayed for months in turning over the video. During this time, the bar had its agent trim the fat off the video. When the officer saw the video that was finally produced months later, the views of the minor receiving the beer and not being on the pizza side were missing.

Jerry and I couldn’t wait to try this case. On the day of jury selection, the case against the bar was resolved. The case against the minor was arbitrated.

We stand ready to assist anyone hurt by a drunk or a minor who was served alcohol in a bar.

UPDATE:  We are pleased to advise that we successfully litigated a Dram Shop Action, involving the service of alcohol to an underage individual at a bar, which resulted in a fight and resulting loss of an eye to our client in the amount of $1.7 Million.

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