Paralyzed Drunk Drive Can’t Sue Restaurant

5246784-2400x1600A 24-year-old drunken driver who was paralyzed below the neck when she crashed into another car as she drove the wrong way down Interstate 5 suffered another blow in court this week: The Oregon Court of Appeals ruled she can’t sue the Southwest Portland restaurant that served her drinks.

The ruling comes on top of another Court of Appeals decision that went against Ashley Schutz last fall.

The court found then that Schutz wasn’t entitled to worker’s compensation from SAIF, the state-chartered worker’s insurance company, because her catastrophic injuries didn’t arise out of her employment even though she claimed she became drunk during a work-related function.

In 2010, Schutz, now 28, filed an $18.7 million lawsuit against La Costita, claiming the Mexican restaurant on Southwest Barbur Boulevard served her so much alcohol that she lost her ability to make safe decisions. She also faulted the restaurant for failing to call her a cab.

Schutz’s suit claims that on Dec. 12, 2008, she felt pressured to accompany her boss and two other co-workers from O’Brien Constructors to the restaurant because she was worried about keeping her job as an office worker and didn’t want her boss to think she didn’t like him. After four hours of drinking, she drove off in her 2001 BMW about 9 p.m., according to her suit. At Southwest River Parkway and Harbor Drive, she entered an exit ramp to northbound I-5 and crashed into an Acura. Her blood-alcohol level was .24 percent — three times the legal limit for driving.

A passenger in the Acura suffered minor injuries, but Schutz broke more than a dozen bones. Among them were her C4 and C5 vertebrae, making her a quadriplegic. Schutz was convicted of drunken driving and fourth degree assault, and sentenced to two days in jail and one year of probation. Her medical bills and therapy at the time of the 2010 filing had reached about $900,000, with another $5 million in future care costs expected.

Even though the restaurant is now removed from her suit, Schutz is still seeking millions in Multnomah County Circuit Court from the remaining defendants: O’Brien Constructors and her former boss. She claims her boss bought her so much alcohol that she lost her ability to stop drinking. A trial date has not been set.

Schutz’s suit is extremely rare. Attorneys say it’s almost unheard of for drunken drivers to sue Oregon bars or restaurants for injuries they suffered. Although still rare, it’s more common for people to sue when they’re hit by a drunken driver.

Oregon lawmakers, however, were prepared for a case like Schutz’s. This week’s Court of Appeals opinion cites a law passed in 2001 in response to a man who sued a Coos Bay restaurant for selling him so many drinks that he passed out and tumbled down a staircase, badly injuring himself.

The law bans customers — who voluntarily drink — from collecting money from bars and restaurants when they hurt themselves as a result. In Schutz’s case, the Court of Appeals determined that that law applies because despite her claims that she didn’t voluntarily drink, she in fact did. Schutz’s attorney didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Mark Scheer, the Portland attorney for the restaurant, praised the decision.

“The statute is very clear that if you drink and drive and have an accident because you drink and drive, you are not allowed to bring a lawsuit against the entity that served you alcohol,” Scheer said. In 2011, Multnomah County Circuit Judge David Rees, who originally dismissed La Costita as a defendant, awarded the restaurant nearly $6,000 for its costs — the bulk of it legal fees. Schutz hasn’t paid. And the restaurant hasn’t sought to collect that money.

“This is a very terrible and unfortunate accident,” Scheer said. “Our sympathy and condolences go out to Ms. Schutz.” After the crash, Schutz moved to California, where she is working on her recovery, according to news accounts. She can been seen in a 2011 photo, posted online by the Carlsbad, Calif.-based Project Walk, taking a step with the assistance of a walker. A 2012 YouTube video shows her using her arms to scoot along a bench and into a wheelchair.

Back

What Clients Say About Patrice & Associates

  • Recruiters Find You Great Careers

    In working with Patrice & Associates, in particular with Sarah Straniero, I was extremely happy with how quickly Sarah was able to place me with my current employer. Sarah is a true professional and I would recommend using Patrice & Associates if you're looking for a career change.   Best in health, Mark Mueller Recruiters Find You Great Careers
  • Recruitment coaches help you think outside of your comfort zone.

    I was contacted by Joe about the job opportunity and at first I was against it. I was searching for something that was outside of my comfort zone and outside of the food industry. While talking with Joe he was so enthusiastic about the company that I said sure let’s give it a try. Joe was with me every single step of the way. From initial contact to me actually being hired he was there. He called/ texted me the day of my interview and encouraged me along the way. I was surprised and happy for his involvement to help me. I could always count on him for great advise and tips during the process. He shared my excitement each time I was contacted by the new company and followed my journey. He was always professional and was easily contacted when I had butterflies about me making the changes. I recommend Joe to any job seekers out there. He went above and beyond! Marqell Campbell General Manager SPJ Recruitment coaches help you think outside of your comfort zone.
  • Recruitment Coaches are Your Coach for Life!

    All I can say about Mike is he has always been supportive and a great mentor to me over the past 8 years.  First as my Director of Operations with Mimi’s Café he always challenged me to be a better manager and encouraged my growth by having me take on leading weekly kitchen manager calls for his market and trusting me to go into troubled locations and helping to turn them around.  Most recently when my time with Mimi’s was over Mike was able to help me secure the next step in my journey in less than 3 weeks.

    Sincerely,

    Bob Nawa

    Recruitment Coaches are Your Coach for Life!
  • Job Coaches Help Reach YOUR Target!

    Emily was amazing from start to finish. From reaching out in the beginning and making clear my options to scheduling the interviews and making sure that I was equipped with all the information and confidence I needed to impress the interviewer. She was in constant contact and was true to her word when she said she was here for me throughout the process. Thank you all for your help. Brian Smith Job Coaches Help Reach YOUR Target!
  • Hospitality Recruiters Make the Best Match for You in Your Next Job.

    I was extremely impressed with Sharon's attention to detail and to make me feel comfortable.  She was in my corner the whole time.  I think it is really great that she actually eats at the restaurants that I will be managing so that is encouraging because that means they have a great working relationship!  I felt that she knew exactly how to prepare me for the interview and the resume that was created was very impressive! Michael Talerico

    Hospitality Recruiters Make the Best Match for You in Your Next Job.