Tuesday, November 8, 2011

'Jackass' star Ryan Dunn Dies in Drunk Driving Accident: Will the Bar Be Sued? Will His Friends Who Let Him Drive Away? Lessons on the Law of Duty

Ryan Dunn, best known as one of the stars of the movie "Jackass" was put to rest yesterday at a memorial service attended by several celebrities as well as many fans. The rumors that the Westboro Baptist Church would show up to protest didn't pan out: there were no protesters there.

At this point, pretty much everyone knows that Ryan Dunn died while driving drunk, with a blood alcohol content twice the legal limit, after losing control of his car while going between 130 and 140 mph, killing both Dunn and his passenger, Zach Hartwell, in a fiery one-car crash after the car veered off the roadway.

We also know that shortly before the crash, Ryan Dunn was seen at a local bar, partying with friends, and the latest tally was that he had 6 shots and 2 beers before getting behind the wheel. There are photos.

Meanwhile, renowned movie critic Roger Ebert backpedaled on his Twitter tweet published shortly after the news of Dunn's death hit the airwaves: he first tweeted, "Friends don't let jackasses drink and drive," and after worldwide backlash, Ebert apologized with "I should clarify: Anyone who drinks and drives is a jackass. That included me in my drinking days. Some are lucky enough to find sobriety," as well as writing a blog post on the subject. To read all his tweets, check out @ebertchicago.

Will the Bar Get Sued? No
There has already been an announcement that the bar where Dunn was seen drinking will not be held liable for contributing to this accident because there is no evidence that the bar employees or management were aware that Dunn was drunk. He didn't look drunk, he didn't weave or slur his words or anything like that ... so the police have released the bar folk from liability.

Why? If the bar is not aware that someone is under the influence, then they don't have a duty to step into the situation and stop serving the customer. Or to call a cab. Or chat with pals. No duty.

Will His Pals Get Sued? No.
There is no duty under the law to proactively step in and protect someone else. His friends shoulda coulda woulda ... but the law does not impose a duty on a citizen to invade the freedom of another citizen by taking their keys or driving them home. It may be the right thing to do, but it's not the legal thing to do. No duty.

Will the Estate of Ryan Dunn Get Sued? Maybe Yes.
There is a legal duty of a driver to protect those in his or her vehicle. It's negligence, maybe gross negligence, maybe more to drive drunk with someone sitting in that passenger seat. You have a legal duty to drive safely. You have a legal duty to obey the law -- no speeding, no driving while under the influence.

So, in this terrible tragedy, the only clear legal duty right now is the one owed by the driver to the passenger. And that duty looks to have been breached by the driver when the car crashed and killed Zach Hartwell.

Prediction: The Estate of Zach Hartwell will seek wrongful death damages from the Estate of Rick Dunn. Sad, but true. Legal duty.

By Bryant Esquenazi on June 23, 2011 2:25 PM

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