Sunday, May 30, 2010

A suit that just doesn't fit

Inga Richardson was having a domestic dispute with her common-law spouse Joey Sanayhie one night after drinking, and she jumped out of the moving vehicle he was driving. Ms. Richardson's lawyers contend that Mr. Sanayhie was aware she had previously jumped from a moving boat when agitated and that, as such, he should have been more careful to restrain her before she jumped from the moving car.

I think this lawsuit is absurd.

Adults who drink are still adults
A person who operates a vehicle is responsible to ensure that minors are using functional restraint systems properly. Children who are not properly restrained are the responsibility of the operator of the vehicle. Adult passengers, however, are responsible for themselves and the proper use of seat belts themselves (at least, that's how it is here in Ontario). In the case of a person who was purchasing and consuming alcohol from a retail establishment, that person must be understood to have been an adult (since it is against the law to sell liquor to minors) and, as such would be responsible for their behaviour when they are passengers in someone else's vehicle.

Drunkenness is not an excuse
People who "drink and drive" are held responsible for damage they cause as a result of driving while intoxicated. In fact, driving while intoxicated is itself a crime. If these laws can be upheld, then we accept that a person who does something against the law while intoxicated is still accountable.

Applied to this case, the woman who jumped out of the car, regardless of the fact that she was not operating the vehicle, is still an adult responsible for her actions, even if she is in a state of inebriation when making her decisions - she cannot use her intoxicated state to escape her own responsibility for deciding to jump out of a moving vehicle.

The new status quo - drink responsibly
People who choose to get drunk make that decision to get drunk before they get drunk. Our laws make it clear that damages caused while drunk are not mitigated by being drunk - in fact they are exacerbated because of the stigma to prevent someone even thinking they might escape responsibility by appealing to their drunken state. So, for example, driving is not a crime. Driving while intoxicated is a crime, even if you don't commit any other crime while driving (you don't have to speed, or hit a fire hydrant or telephone pole, or run a red light while drunk - driving itself while drunk is the crime).

This is why the lingo is not "serve responsibly", or "chaperon responsibly", or "bartend responsibly", "be a pal responsibly". The onus sits squarely on the shoulders of the individual who decides to drink.

The bottom line is this: if you get drunk, you remain fully responsible for your actions.

Precedent would threaten the industry
Once this transfer of responsibility is upheld, what person would expose themselves to the risk of being held responsible for the actions of a drunken fool? If there are increasingly less people willing to take that risk, then there will be less support for people to drink; with less support for drinking, there'd be less drinking; with less drinking, there'd be less purchasing of alcoholic beverages - hold the phone...

The revenue stream
When you think about wine, and beer, and alcoholic beverages, there are many iconic brands and identities out there, as well as regions that have become very closely linked to their grape-growing or beer brewing. Whether it's Jack Daniels in some country bar; or James Bond's insistence that a proper martini is made with vodka and is shaken, not stirred; or the classic bottle of Bordeaux wine breathing on the table of a sumptuous spread or casually shared on a blanket with a baguette and some foie gras sitting under the Eiffel Tower... It may be surprising for some to realize that the number-one retailer of alcoholic beverages on planet earth is Ontario's very own LCBO, with sales in 2008 reaching almost $4.27 billion, dividends to the Ontario Provincial Government exceeding $1 billion that same year, and almost $1 billion in PST and GST going to the provincial and federal governments over the same period.

The LCBO is a cash cow for the government. If the social and ethical considerations weren't sufficient to squash this ridiculous suit, the threat to the governments' coffers should be.

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