New York Car Accidents—Liquor Liability Case In White Plains Federal Court

April 23, 2012 by Mark Siesel

26 year old Rachel Fraulo of Westport, Connecticut recently commenced a “Liquor liability” lawsuit against an out of business Mount Kisco tavern, O’Malley’s, and its two owners in Federal Court in White Plains arising out of a serious car crash in January of 2009. She alleges that as a result of the accident, she suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI), permanent vision impairment, several fractured bones and neck injuries. The facts are as follows. At approximately 3:30 AM on January 11, 2009, Rachel Fraulo was a passenger in an automobile driven by her friend Brian Vittorini, 34, when the vehicle driven by Vittorini struck a guardrail at the end of the southbound exit ramp on I-684 in Katonah, adjacent to Route 35.

The suit charges that prior to the accident, Vittorini was visibly intoxicated after having consumed “dozens” of Jack Daniels and Coke cocktails at O’Malley’s. Under the New York State Dram Shop Act, if it can be proven that the bar’s employees served Vittorini alcohol after observing that he was “visibly intoxicated”, and he then drove while intoxicated and caused injuries to his passenger, the bar would have liability under the Dram Shop Act.

At the time of the accident, Mr. Vittorini refused a blood alcohol test, and the Bedford Police Chief determined that the accident was caused by a combination of speed, alcohol and failure to wear seat belts. Subsequently, Vittorini pled guilty to charges of vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated. Importantly for Ms. Fraulo’s case, those convictions can be introduced into evidence during a trial of the case, with obviously significant impact on a jury when they have to determine fault. Apparently, Ms. Fraulo previously reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the insurance company representing Mr. Vittorini. If a jury were to decide that Mr. Vittorini was primarily at fault for the accident, there would have to be a determination by the Court as to how this previous settlement affects any damages awarded by the jury. In sum, a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit is not entitled to receive what is called a “double recovery”, meaning that the plaintiff cannot get damages for the same injuries twice. However, the plaintiff is entitled to be compensated for all potential damages, including pain and suffering, loss earnings, lost earnings potential, medical and hospital expenses, both past and present, and “loss of enjoyment of life.”

In opposition to Ms. Fraulo’s case, the defense has undoubtedly asserted a “seat belt defense.” If they can prove, through expert testimony, that Ms. Fraulo was not wearing her seat belt at the time of the accident, and can demonstrate that some or all of the injuries suffered by Ms. Fraulo would have been avoided or lessened if she were wearing her seat belt, her damages will be reduced by the percentage of her own fault for failure to comply with section 1229-c of the Vehicle & Traffic Law, which mandates that seat belts be worn by drivers and passengers of motor vehicles.

The defense will further claim that Ms. Fraulo was also intoxicated, and should not have entered the vehicle with Mr. Vittorini knowing that he was intoxicated. It is unclear whether they will be able to prove this defense or not, but it can be particularly damaging if the jury is convinced that Ms. Fraulo was at fault for entering the car knowing that Mr. Vittorini was “visibly intoxicated.”

One other point which can be a significant issue in this case is whether O’Malley’s had a liability insurance policy which contained a provision for Dram Shop or Liquor Liability coverage. This type of insurance is very expensive, and in my experience, many bars and nightclubs do not carry Dram Shop insurance for that reason. If O’Malley’s did not have Dram Shop coverage, Ms. Fraulo also has a claim against the two owners of the bar, ostensibly to assert a claim against their assets if they were uninsured for the accident. I would assume that prior to commencing a case in federal Court, Ms. Fraulo’s attorneys have determined that either O’Malley’s has sufficient insurance coverage, or that the owners have assets to make the lawsuit worth pursuing.

The case has been adjourned to October of 2012 for trial of this action after a hearing this month. We will follow this case when it commences in October.

Serious car accidents can be life altering, with permanent pain and suffering, substantial medical bills, loss of employment, damage to earning potential, significant impact on family life and relationships, and psychological trauma. If you or a loved one is seriously injured in an automobile accident, truck accident, or motorcycle crash, you need representation by experienced and aggressive attorneys who will battle the insurance companies and their attorneys for the maximum compensation for all of your injuries. Contact the Westchester County Personal Injury Attorneys at the White Plains, New York Law Office Of Mark A. Siesel for your free initial consultation today to discuss your case in detail.