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Posted at 7:57 AM ET, 12/14/2010

Bar sued after patron's crash kills girl

By Dan Morse

If a bar's customer leaves drunk, drives off and kills someone, should the bar be held liable? The family of Jazimen Warr, a 10-year-old girl who died in 2008 and was the subject of a Post story, thinks so.

On Monday, their lawyer filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court against Gaithersburg-based JMGM Group, which does business as the Dogfish Head Alehouse, according to court records.

The Warr's lawyer, Andrew Bederman, acknowledged that the family faces an uphill battle in Maryland, where courts are less friendly to such claims than in some other states.

But "this case screams out for this type of remedy," said Bederman.

The evening of Aug. 21, 2008, Michael Eaton arrived at the Gaithersburg bar and restaurant, and started a tab. One witness told investigators he stayed for six hours. Sometime after 10 p.m., according to state police records, he paid for 14 bottles of Corona and two "Lemon Drop" shots.

He opened a second tab -- three Coronas and a shot of tequila -- closing it out at 10:55 p.m., according to the police records. He purchased drinks for himself and others, according to police records.

After leaving the bar, records say, Eaton climbed into a Range Rover and headed south on Interstate 270, reaching an estimated speed of 88 to 98 mph. He plowed into the back of the Warr's Jeep, kept going, left his vehicle, fled on foot, made his way to a hotel and turned himself in the next afternoon.

By then, Jazimen -- who had been in the back seat of the Jeep sleeping on her sister Cortavia's shoulder -- was dead.

Officials with Dogfish Head Alehouse in Gaithersburg referred calls to a Maryland attorney who is listed on Articles of Organization filings for JMGM. That attorney, J. Gregory Boyland, could not be reached by telephone.

Bederman said Maryland is one of only a handful of states in the nation in which bars cannot be held civilly liable for serving intoxicated patrons. Bederman hopes his lawsuit will force Maryland courts to create a legal avenue to win such a claim.

In an earlier criminal probe of the incident, investigators found 17 empty beer bottles in the Range Rover. Eaton pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. Prosecutors said he could be eligible for parole in less than four years.

Lawyers for Eaton recently asked a Montgomery judge to diminish his sentence. In court filings, they say Eaton has become a leader in Alcoholics Anonymous in prison, is working as a teacher's aide to help other inmates, and is a "voracious reader" of self-help and spiritual books.

Eaton "has become a changed man" in prison, lawyers Philip Armstrong and Howard Cheris wrote in a November filing.

William Warr, Jazimen's grandfather, was raising the girl with his wife. He said the holidays are particularly hard for the family. "We're hanging in there," he said.

By Dan Morse  | December 14, 2010; 7:57 AM ET
Categories:  Dan Morse, From the Courthouse, Montgomery, Updates  
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Comments

Yeah being in prison and not being able to get a drink has a way of changing ya. I hope that the family of this lost angel gets every dime they can from this bar. After all thats what the bar was doing with this helpless drunk. There is no excuse to get drunk and get behind the wheel of a car.

Posted by: msdooby1 | December 14, 2010 8:50 AM | Report abuse

"reaching an estimated speed of 88 to 98 miles per house" - Unless I've been terribly mistaken about the "H" in "MPH," I believe you mean, "per hour." :)

Posted by: georgetownred | December 14, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

"sleeping on her sister Cortavia's shoulder" - does this imply she wasn't wearing a seat belt?

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | December 14, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

"reaching an estimated speed of 88 to 98 miles per house" - Unless I've been terribly mistaken about the "H" in "MPH," I believe you mean, "per hour." :)

Posted by: georgetownred | December 14, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

This country will continue to go to hell until people learn to take responsibilty for their actions. It isn't the bars fault about what happened. It is legal to serve alcohol so they served it. Do we really want them policing our every activity?

Posted by: TG10 | December 14, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

This country will continue to go to hell until people learn to take responsibilty for their actions. It isn't the bars fault about what happened. It is legal to serve alcohol so they served it. Do we really want them policing our every activity?

Posted by: TG10 | December 14, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

@TG10

laws are in place to safeguard those who can't care for themselves, and guard against people who have no concern for the well being of their fellow man. It's reasonable to ask an establishment that serves alcohol to cut-off patrons,especially when it's highly likely that the patron drove to the bar/restaurant (are there "walkable" bars in G-Burg?). The fact of the matter is that the driver,didn't want to take responsibility for his actions. He knew he drank 10 or so brews, he knows the legal limit. The responsible thing would be for him to catch a cab or get a ride from a friend. Hell, even call the wife as a last resort, but there's no excuse for drinking and driving. The onus is on the individual, but there should be enough evidence by now to show that the individual isn't compelled to act responsibly. Sometimes there need to be rules to protect us from ourselves and each other. He got drunk killed a girl and will be out in 4 yrs. Something has to be done.

Posted by: lilhollywood10 | December 14, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

TG10
"It isn't the bars fault about what happened. It is legal to serve alcohol so they served it"

Actually, it is against the law to serve alcohol to intoxicated customers. MD has a little quirk in the law in which it is the server of alcohol held responsible not the business.

Posted by: cadlecreek1 | December 14, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Eaton "has become a changed man" in prison, lawyers Philip Armstrong and Howard Cheris wrote in a November filing.
-------------------------
Prison usually does that for a lot of prisoners, so come up with a better argument please.

Posted by: PublicEnemy1 | December 14, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Is it just me, or does anyone else hope this guy was "changed" by a big, brutal cellmate?

Posted by: ANCLvr | December 14, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

This sounds like a pretty cut and dry defense. One, Maryland doesn't allow bars to be liable for serving drunks. Two, the bottles found in the man's car could indicate he drank more after leaving the bar. The first argument should have the suit thrown out. If they want to enforce change in the legislation that's one thing. As it is currently written, these grandparents need to find another way to get rich.

Posted by: dtysko | December 14, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Her daddy should be charged also, he should have had her strapped in.

Posted by: Special_One40 | December 14, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

What I have always found interesting is when bartenders determine a patrons'legal age by asking for a drivers license. I have been to the Dogfish Head in question; the people there are always professional and have not been known to serve people who are obviously intoxicated. (By the way, I always tale the Ride-On bus coming and going - so one does not have to drive.)

Posted by: CubsFan | December 14, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

"If a bar's customer leaves drunk, drives off and kills someone, should the bar be held liable?"

No, it should not. Neither should the server/bartender.

It is the human who drank to excess and then drove impaired who is solely responsible.

The laws making any other entity responsible are ridiculous.

"It's reasonable to ask an establishment that serves alcohol to cut-off patrons"

I agree that when a person is intoxicated, bar employees should cut them off (knowing that bar peeps must use their best estimate on this, as they cannot breathalize people)

"...,especially when it's highly likely that the patron drove to the bar/restaurant "

I disagree with this as it is redundant to the first part - drunk is drunk. Drunk bikers and peds are dangerous to themselves and others though not to the level of driving a 2000 lb weapon.

I also disagree because it is not a function of the bar to assess how their patrons arrived at their bar. It is their function to assess sobriety and verify age.

Posted by: Greent | December 14, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

There is a law that hold sthe server responsible if they know that the patron is drunk or has had to much to drink and still serves them..... this is tragi none the less.... if you knwo the guy is hammered, which he was, as a bar, you have the responsibility to cut this man off and to get him a ride home. I have worked at bars, in MoCO where mgt does this... if the patrons refused... officer Romack was called and they soon got a DWI once they left the establishment. I think there is a lot of faults in this... the person for driving drunk, the bar for feeding him an abundance of alcohol and letting him roll out with out trying to assist him and unfortunately the family for not having this child strapped into her child seat. I still feel horrible fo the situation at hand.

Posted by: rvanags | December 14, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

People, where in the article does it say that the girl was not wearing a seat belt? Additionally, the law does not require a 10 year old to be in a car seat (given normal height/weight for a 10 yr old girl)A lot of assumptions being made here.

Posted by: overed | December 14, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I lump this case with fat people suing MacDonalds, crime victims suing gun manufactors, and gambling addicts suing casinos. What happened to personal responsibility. I'm a liberal, yet sometimes we try to blame establishments for problems in the community. The might as well sue Corona for making a product that made this guy drunk. Then we as a nation need to go back to prohibition. Then when Al Capone II comes out and sell bootleg and increase the crime we could sue the government for not allowing alcohol. The ish is ridiculous, F N ridiculous.

Posted by: ClevenderInDC | December 14, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

The government and courts need to stop trying to make everyone else responsable for someone's actions. The bar is not responsable for people who get drunk and do something like this. Next thing will be if someone leaves your house intoxicated or even just over the limit so you don't know and has an accident you will be sued, go to prison and lose your home. To much of the Nanny State.

Posted by: Pilot1 | December 14, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Smells like a greedy parent! Both the parents as well as their ambulance chasing lawyer should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by: madmike272 | December 14, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

While this incident is very tragic, no bar or establishment should be held liable whatsoever in any state unless they are knowingly serving copious amounts of alcohol to someone who is planning to drive home... which would be very hard to prove anyways. Should we then proceed to only allow establishments to serve alcohol that won't put your BAC level over .08%??? Should they do a calculation for every patron that walks in to see how much they can reasonably drink before they are above the limit? Most of us are responsible to the point where we take a cab or have another method of getting home after heavy drinking. The only person that should be blamed or sued is Eaton and that is it.

Posted by: JLillard2 | December 14, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

I feel for the girl's family. However, I think it's overreaching to hold the bar liable. First, there may have been several bartenders through the course of 6-8 hours who may have served him. Secondly, how is a bartender supposed to know whether a patron is getting drinks for himself or buying "rounds" for other people.

Only in the most egregious instances when someone is stumbling and slurring words should a bartender turn nanny. The guy fowled up and killed someone. A family suffered a tragic loss. The bum is in jail. That's the end of it.

Posted by: jab00 | December 14, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I feel for the girl's family. However, I think it's overreaching to hold the bar liable. First, there may have been several bartenders through the course of 6-8 hours who may have served him. Secondly, how is a bartender supposed to know whether a patron is getting drinks for himself or buying "rounds" for other people.

Only in the most egregious instances when someone is stumbling and slurring words should a bartender turn nanny. The guy fowled up and killed someone. A family suffered a tragic loss. The bum is in jail. That's the end of it.

Posted by: jab00 | December 14, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

ClevenderInDC said: "I lump this case with fat people suing MacDonalds, crime victims suing gun manufactors, and gambling addicts suing casinos. What happened to personal responsibility."
_______
This argument would be perfectly reasonable if the plaintiff was the drunk driver who is responsible for drinking too much. But in this situation, a little girl who was riding in the back of her family's vehicle, sound asleep, is the victim and not at fault whatsoever. While you cannot financiall compensate for a life, you can take responsibility and an "I am sorry" just won't cut it.

Posted by: Restonite1 | December 14, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

The person responsible is the drunk driver. If he could afford to buy so many drinks he could also afford to call a taxi. Or he could have called someone sober for free. I don't care if he is a changed man, he should really have to serve every day of the 8 years. One day he will be about to go on with his life. The little girl he killed never will.

Posted by: ctree | December 14, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I meant he will be able to go on with his life.

Posted by: ctree | December 14, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

It is a sad story that the child dies and parents have to suffer for a long time. In todays age and time and with all sophisticated technologies and cameras for red ilght and speed why it is not possible to install cameras on major highways that use video analytics to detect erratic driving/ wreckless driving (under influence/medical condition) and automaticall alert state police etc in real time saving precious life. I bet it will not be too expansive and will be a worthy cause. In future we may have cars that thwart drunk/erratic driving by sensing driver inability etc but that is in the long run.

Posted by: Jim110 | December 14, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

I don't think they have corona at Dogfish...

Posted by: megankp | December 14, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

I don't think they have corona at Dogfish...

Posted by: megankp | December 14, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

can we skip the part where people rant and rave about whether the law should ever find a proprietor liable? Dram Shop Laws have been around in some cases for over 100 years. And wait for it...sometimes it doesn't have to be a business; see Social Host Laws. You let people booze it up in your house and they drive home and you too could be on the hook.

Don't give me the personal responsibility spiel either with respect to an innocent person attempting to recover against the proprietor. it would be different if the drunken fool tried to blame others. but this is about the 10 year old girl.

All that matters is whether THE PARTICULAR CIRCUMSTANCES AT HAND are covered by the Maryland Dram Shop law. it matters if they knew he was drunk; if they knew how much he had actually had (not what he paid for); lots of factors. everything else is pablum.

Posted by: DreamOutLoud | December 14, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

It's not the bar's fault that the guy drove his vehicle. If the bar loses in this, whats to say that any restaurant can't be sued? Are we going to install breathalyzers in parking lots of every establishment? It's dreadful that the young girl lost her life and I am glad to see the guy in jail, but you can not hold a restaurant liable. If the risk is that large, restaurants just won't open. Furthermore, they found 17 bottles in his car. That might tell you something.

Posted by: Jsuf | December 14, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

Why should the bar be charged? They are not parents in bars. They serve a legal product. It is the responsibility of the person ordering the drinks to catch a cab. If the person had not been drinking and still crashed into the other car (it happens everyday), who would get sued?

Posted by: richyancy | December 14, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

People need to be held responsible for their own actions. Bartenders are not nannies, nor should they be.

Posted by: CAC2 | December 14, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

People need to be held responsible for their own actions. Bartenders are not nannies, nor should they be.

Posted by: CAC2 | December 14, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

If they can prove that he was intoxicated and they continued to serve him, then they should be held responsible, but to what end: The law is on his side. Two things jump out at me - the number of bottles found IN his vehicle (17), which could mean he wasn't drunk at the bar; no mention if the girl was wearing her seatbelt. It opens possibilities.

Posted by: thomasp11 | December 14, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Sorry.. I don't think that pubs should be held liable. How about those people he bought drinks for, and drank with. Are they liable for allowing him to drive home.
All bar patrons know the county laws related to alcohol, and it is their responsibility to not get behind a wheel if they have had too much. There are other options for getting home.

Posted by: 189AROD | December 14, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

it would seem obvious to me that in this situation there is no way that a court could find against the restaurant.

First, this person was buying drinks for several people. there was no way for the bartender (s) to know how many were for him.

second, as was mentioned, there could have been several bartenders.

third, even if the guy was drunk, if he was with a group, there is no way for the bartender(s) to know if he was driving.

fourth, the finding of 17 empties in his truck suggests that he has a drinking problem. if he is an alcoholic, it is possible that he could drink a large quantity of alcohol and be quite drunk without showing any dramatic signs to those around him. any of those beers could have been drunk after he left the restaurant.

fifth, it would seem that the group of people he was with would have a much more intimate knowledge of his state prior to leaving the restaurant than the bartender(s) would.

i think there is a general lack of personal responsibility in this country. stop blaming others.

there is also an absurd court system that allows people to sue others for ridiculous things in order to try to get rich without any work.

a small child's death is terrible. incredibly terrible. but the bar isn't responsible. the driver alone is responsible. he should be in jail and serve his time.

Posted by: nihil1318 | December 15, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

The bar is at fault for a poor decision made by the customer? While I feel for this family, it sounds like they are trying to milk all they can out of this little girl's death. What's next, McDonald's denying a large fry to the heavyset customer in their drive-thru window? I realize that bars have the right to "cut" people off when they see fit, but businesses should not be held responsible for poor choices made by others.

Posted by: coconutz82 | December 16, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Just a few thoughts:

Driver was a repeat offender - plenty of evidence there. I hope he spends a long time in jail.

Poor little girl - wasn't her fault and don't give me that seatbelt stuff. We are not sure about the seatbelt status and the drunk guy was going at what 80+ mph?

The bar/resturant should not be liable - too many other factors including all the beer bottles they found in his car. Also in general the bar should not have to figure out who's driving. It said he bought a bunch of drinks for his friends - how could the bartender know which ones were driving?

I am not ready to conclude that the family is trying to get rich off the lawsuit - maybe I'm too trusting of the family. Not everyone is a gold digger. I think they are just pissed and lashing out.

Posted by: lifetimearearesident | December 20, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

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