Indiana Supreme Court Rules Dram Shop Action Doesn't Apply to Jointly Owned Alcohol But Remands Case for Other Issues
An October 26, 2016 Indiana Supreme Court Ruling has decided two separate issues in a strange set of facts involving the death of one Fort Wayne man. Angela Martin and Brian Brothers co-hosted a house party at which alcohol was served. Martin and Brothers were dating at the time and shared a bank account that was used to buy a keg of beer. As the party was winding down, Brothers and two guests, Jerry Chambers and Paul Michalik, got into a fistfight. Martin found Michalik lying motionless on the basement floor and Chambers with blood on his face. The police later found Michalik dead outside the home. The personal representative of Michalik’s estate and Chambers’s bankruptcy trustee filed a complaint against Martin, alleging, in part, that Martin negligently caused Michalik’s injuries after it was found that Martin did not call 911 or attempt to get the victims any medical attention. Martin went to bed shortly after she was notified that Michalik was unresponsive. It was also alleged against Martin and that she furnished alcohol in violation of Indiana’s Dram Shop Act. Martin sought to have both of these claims thrown out and the trial court granted Martin’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiffs appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) summary judgment on the negligence claim was improper, because there are still many questions of fact as to whether Martin breached the landowner-invitee duty to exercise reasonable care for Michalik’s protection while he was on her premises; and (2) summary judgment was appropriate on Plaintiffs’ Dram Shop Act claim because Martin jointly paid for and possessed the same beer, and therefore, Martin could not “furnish” it to Brothers under the Act.