Law Suit claims McHenry County bars should be held responsible for deaths in DUI accident

drunk drivingBack in February, after finishing a Metra Pub Crawl, 28 year old Tyler Stewart got behind the wheel of his car – intoxicated – and crashed into a sedan, killing him and the sedan driver Lawrence Madigan. In a story this morning from Chicago Tribune Contact reporter John Keilman, the family of Lawrence Madigan is suing the 3 McHenry Country bars that Tyler and his group stopped at during their crawl. The family believes the bars should be held liable for the death of Madigan because, in their view, the bars are responsible for Stewart’s intoxication because they over-served him. As the family’s lawyer Jennifer Ashley alleges, “He was over served every step of the way.”

The relationship between bartenders/bar establishments and customers is a complicated one, but the establishment and bartenders share a certain responsibility to do their absolute best to make sure people aren’t going to be putting themselves or others in danger in the bar and when they leave the bar. The line between getting drunk with buddies and being over served to the point of dangerous intoxication can be a thin one, but often times there is a point where it becomes fairly easy to determine someone should not be served anymore; but i’m sure many bartenders would argue that there are many times when it’s hard to see this point. There could be further complications, though, that come from the relationship between bar owners and bartenders. In an ideal world, bar owners are putting the highest priority into ensuring safe consumption, but in reality, for a number of bars, it’s likely profit interest is the biggest priority. So bartenders who are responsible and want to ensure safe consumption might not be viewed as ideal employees by certain bar owners and safety takes a backseat priority. *This is speculative and in no way reflects what the policies of the 3 bars in question may be, since I have really no idea, but I’m just trying to establish the possible complications of the issue.* Also, a further complication is that these bars are popular bar crawl locations for the Metra pub crawl, as mentioned earlier. So, being one of these bars, it may be tougher to think of cutting off consumption or ensuring safety when you know the person is going to another bar to get plastered again. But this doesn’t mean bartenders and bar owners should ignore overconsumption as is alleged in this lawsuit.

The relationship of the bars to the pub crawl may also have influenced the bars’ differing reactions to this suit. For example, the bar that’s the first in the Pub crawl lineup may feel like they should be safely distanced from responsibility, while the last bar in the crawl may very much feel they could be in trouble here. This seems evident as Keilaman notes, “One of the bars, Finn McCool’s in Crystal Lake, denied the allegations in court papers, while another, Durty Nellie’s in Palatine, did not respond to a message left by the Tribune. But the owner of the third establishment, Peggy Kinnane’s in Arlington Heights, the alleged starting point of the Feb. 11 pub crawl, said the crash took place hours after the group had left his place, and that the tavern bore no liability.”

Derek Stanley, the owner of Peggy Kinnane’s, states that while knowing his bar is a frequent stop for pub crawls, his staff makes it a priority not to over serve, but that he can’t control customers’ transportation choices as he told the Tribune. “You’re under the assumption that they’re on the train, and at the end, they take a cab or an Uber home,” he said. “Logic would tell you that’s the right thing to do. But unfortunately, not everyone is responsible like that.” So they’re sort of shedding responsibility in a “we can’t control what happens after they leave” way, which is what you’d expect. All of this doesn’t help Lawrence Madigan’s family’s horrible loss and the understandable, and in my opinion, justified anger they hold towards both Stewart and the bar establishments. Lawrence left a real estate meeting with a client, not expecting his life to be claimed from him because of horrible irresponsibility. American culture now thankfully disparages drunk driving, but it also conflictingly somewhat celebrates a culture of alcohol consumption through endorsements, advertisements, tv shows, movies, etc. This isn’t to say drinking is wrong and that you can’t enjoy consuming alcohol while also being responsible, but to say that the beliefs surrounding alcohol in the country are complicated and at times conflict with each other. Bar crawls are one of the most popular forms of suburban entertainment as the article mentions, and why not? It’s a good time with buddies. These are naturally going to lead to consuming a decent amount of alcohol in a not-so-decent of amount of time, and then inevitably people wanting to drive home because they feel they’re fine and are completely confident in their abilities. But of course they’re drunk and certainly not as good as drivers as they think they are in the moment. Even with Ubers around, the same conversations still happen around bars/campuses/campus bars/homes throughout the country. Friends telling one friend they shouldn’t drive home, they’re too intoxicated and they should either call an Uber/Taxi, stay at their place, walk or just whatever not drive option there is. But of course the friend responds; “he’s fine, he has stuff to do the next morning, he can’t stay over, he can’t leave his car here” etc. His ability to function is tied up in it. So the friends relent, even though they know in the back of their mind that this isn’t a good idea.  So he drives off under the influence and if he’s lucky he makes it home, and if he’s not lucky he hurts himself and worse someone else because of his irresponsibility and the inability to stop him.

So how does this get stopped? The police presence outside heavy drinking areas will play its part, but also it’s up to the bars too, to take the safety and responsibility of their customers into the highest priority, which is what the family of Madigan is looking for. His wife, Karaline stated,  “It really, really bothers me it happened the way it did, with all the alcohol that had been consumed in that pub crawl,” she said. “Why didn’t anybody pay attention to this young man? Why didn’t the bars pay attention to this stuff?” Taverns liability caps under the Illinois Dramshop Act are set at $149,000, no small number but also a number that pales in comparison to the tragic loss of life that occurred. But to the family this is about more than the monetary compensation, this is about setting safety and liability precedents so as to hope this doesn’t happen again to others.

The article ended with talking about the Metra’s view on Pub Crawls and the Yard clubs that organize them, “A Metra spokesman said the commuter railroad doesn’t sanction pub crawls or offer any policies on how to conduct them. Scott Presslak of the Yard Social Club, which organizes several suburban train crawls, said the group encourages people to take public transportation to and from the events.Train crawls also are popular among charities. One of them, the Woodfield Area Children’s Organization, posted a flyer online for a fundraising Metra crawl that took place in March. It included a list of rules, ending with this one: “Please don’t drink and drive. Uber, Lyft and taxis are highly encouraged for your trip home.”  I obviously have no easy answers. Maybe an agreement can be made between crawlers and the organizers or the first bar they attend, that car keys have to be given up for the night to be served. Maybe this throws peoples plans into a disarray, especially for the following morning, but maybe that should be part of the trade off if you’re going to be participating in this type of event. Maybe some bars do this, I don’t know but clearly these didn’t or couldn’t. Rest in peace Lawrence Madigan, and Tyler Stewart as well. Both families must be in incredible pain.

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