Parents who serve teenagers alcohol on their property can't be held liable if someone dies as a result of that act.
That's basically what the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals said in a ruling issued today in a lawsuit brought by the parents of a Jasper High School student who died in a 2001 auto accident near Carthage.
The weight of Missouri law is against the people who actually consume the alcohol then commit wrongful acts, the decision said.
The lawsuit was filed by Steve Ritchie and Anita Ritchie, the parents of the late Kelsey Ritchie, a Jasper High School senior at the time of her death. The lawsuit was filed against Kelly Goodman, Jeremy Shumard, Frank Shumard Jr., Sue Shumard, Danny W. Mers, and Johns Does 1 through 5.
According to the decision, Jeremy Shumard held a party at the home of his parents, Frank and Sue Shumard on March 23, 2001. Those in attendance included Adam Tomblin, 18, Toby Waters, 17, Noah Heath, 18, Aaron Anderson, 18, Kelsey Ritchie, 17, Anna Isles, 16. Most of the students at the party were high schoolers and none of those attending was over 21, according to the opinion.
"Prior to that evening's party, several of the minors collected money from their friends and obtained a keg of beer, which they set up in the Shumards' backyard near a shed. On that evening, in addition to consuming beer from the keg, the partygoers built a bonfire, which they ran through and danced around; passed around a bottle of vodka, and listened to music."
At some point, according to the opinion, Anderson, Heath, Miss Isles and Miss Ritchie left the Shumard home in Heath's Ford Mustang. Heath and Anderson were in the front seat with the two young women in the back. After they had gone about a mile, Anderson asked Heath to stop the car so he could go to the bathroom. Heath parked the car, but left it in the roadway to wait for Tomblin and Waters, who they knew were coming behind them. "Shortly thereafter, Tomblin, who was legally intoxicated and driving at a speed of approximately 82 miles per hour, crested a hill and struck the rear end of Heath's parked vehicle."
Miss Ritchie and Miss Iles were pronounced dead at the scene. The others suffered serious injuries.
According to the decision, the lawsuit was based on three principles:
The first was "a public policy argument which would extend joint liability to social hosts who provide alcoholic beverages to minors. Based on the fact that (the Shumards) provided alcoholic beverages to the minors in the present matter, (the Ritchies) allege 'it was reasonably foreseeable that those minors would then negligently operate motor vehicles upon public highways while under the influence."
The second principle was that the Shumards were "negligent in failing to supervise the minors attending the party upon their premises," since the intoxicated minors left the party in cars and were not prevented from doing so.
The third principle was that the Shumards were responsible for "the conduct of the various minors that attended the party at their home."
The case was dismissed by Jasper County Circuit Court Judge William Carl Crawford, who agreed with the defendants' claim that their actions were not "the proximate cause or the cause-in-fact" of Kelsey Ritchie's death.
In the appeal, the Ritchies' lawyer claimed Crawford had erred by not recognizing public policy and common law in Missouri which provide that social hosts such as the Shumards "who allow minors to drink alcohol on their property and then operate motor vehicles should be jointly liable for the negligence of the minors in the use and operation of the motor vehicles."
The appeals court judges said they did not see a reason to make new law and they would not extend the provisions of the law to provide the basis for the Ritchies' case.
The decision said the Ritchies could not establish that the defendants caused their daughter's death and the death of Anna Iles. "As case law clearly sets out, based on the common law, it was the consumption of alcoholic beverages by Heath and Tomblin and not the furnishing of the alcoholic beverages to them by respondents that was the proximate cause of the untimely death of Kelsey and Anna."
One of my favorite people, Ronna Patterson, was named principal of Pleasant Valley Elementary School by the Carthage R-9 Board of Education Monday night. Ms. Patterson, the former Ronna Cook of Granby, is an old friend who attended East Newton High School during the same time I was there (though she has done a far better job of weathering the last three decades than I have).
Ronna is nearing the completion of her first year in the Carthage R-9 system. She is currently assistant principal and reading coach at Steadley Elementary School.
KODE's Alan Cavanna explored the connections between the Terri Schaivo case in Florida and the Nancy Cruzan case. It is a good story for print or broadcast journalists and a welcome decision by KODE's news team to re-examine the local story that had such a great national impact. Sometimes journalists have a tendency to go from one story to the next, over and over again, without revisiting the stories of the past that help put today's stories in context.
Though there are major differences in the Cruzan and Schaivo cases, the Cruzan case paved the way for the courtroom battle that is taking place now.
It doesn't seem as if it has been 15 years since Nancy Cruzan, lying in a persistent vegetative state in a hospital in Mount Vernon, was named one of People Magazine's 25 most influential people of 1990.
As far as I can determine, KFJX, the Joplin Fox affiliate, during its 9 p.m. news, was the first to run the story that Southwest City Police Chief Toi Cannada had been arrested on burglary and assault charges. While all four local broadcast stations have run today's news that the McDonald County prosecuting attorney has dropped the charges against Ms. Cannada, KFJX's website and the website of its sister station, KOAM, are still leading with the story that she has been arrested and the news that the charges were dropped was released several hours ago.
Lamarmo.com reports that Golden City native Kevin Baldwin has been hired to replace Marcia Bary as Lamar High School principal. Ms. Bary resigned recently and will leave her position at the end of June.
An interesting line of comments has been posted in the education section of Seneca Forums at www.senecaforums.com regarding the wearing and display of the Confederate flag, a group of high school wrestlers causing a commotion at the state tournament by wearing hats adorned with that still-controversial symbol. Apparently, the situation has become just as heated on the high school campus with some racial tension existing at the school, which until recently had been pretty much lily white.
Directly in the line of fire there is High School Principal Ron Wallace, who I worked with for quite a few years when he was Carthage High School girls basketball coach and I covered the team's games for The Carthage Press.
This one could develop into a big story during the next few weeks.