Louisiana Record

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Paragon Casino employees not liable for actions of intoxicated driver

By John Breslin | Apr 15, 2018

LAKE CHARLES — Three casino employees cannot be sued for allegedly allowing an intoxicated customer to leave the premises in his car, only to later crash and cause the death of another motorist, a Louisiana appeals court has ruled.

The case centers on the actions of the employees of the Paragon Casino in the Tunica-Biloxi Native American nation in Marksville, and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before bouncing back to the state court in the Parish of Avoyelles.

After the 12th Judicial District refused to dismiss the claims against the defendants, the case went to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal, which earlier this month ruled in favor of the trio by finding that the state does protect individuals serving alcohol from liability for injuries suffered off premises.

Defendants Marissa Martin, a bartender, and security guards, Nathan Ponthier, and Jeremy Ponthieux, were sued by Zachary Zaunbrecher, whose father, Michael, died after being involved in a collision with an intoxicated motorist who had just left the Paragon Casino Resort. The driver, Leo David, had a blood-alcohol level of .21, close to three times the legal limit.

Tunica-Biloxi Gaming Authority, the resort's owners, was also sued but the same appeal court earlier ruled that it had Native American sovereign immunity.

The question then centered on whether employees are also covered by the same sovereign immunity, which both the appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court found that they did not.

However, the defendants also argued that they were covered under statutory immunity, specifically the Louisiana Anti-Dram Shop law.

Under anti-dram shop legislation, Judge John E. Conery, who wrote the lead opinion, stated that a person is protected from liability “for an injury suffered off the premises, including wrongful death and property damage, because of the intoxication of the person to whom the intoxicating beverages were sold or served."

Servers or a bar can lose their permit to sell alcohol, but liability for becoming intoxicated is on the drinker.

While the defendants are wholly covered by statutory immunity, the court also noted that video evidence does not support the plaintiff's claims that David was forcibly ejected from the premises and escorted by security officers to his car,

Judge Sylvia R. Cooks, concurring, said that the plaintiffs’ claims are “wholly unsupportable," the Avoyelles Today newspaper reported.

“It is clear Mr. David was not escorted to his vehicle, but can clearly be seen leaving the casino building of his own accord, unassisted by anyone,” she wrote. “He is seen walking quite a distance directly to his vehicle and driving away in a normal manner.”

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Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal