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Assigning Blame in a DUI Death

Unfortunately, traffic accidents involving excessive alcohol use aren’t rare. But no matter how often they make the news, the tales are doubly dramatic when the result is the death of an innocent person.

We don’t react as much if the drunk driver is killed. After all, they are responsible for their own fate. But the death of someone who just happened to on the road at the wrong time seems entirely unjust. The drunk goes off to jail and the family of the deceased is left to grieve.

A lawsuit in Houston seeks a remedy in just such a case. The drunk driver, Erasmo Ramirez is already in jail. He was convicted of driving drunk and causing the accident which killed Katherine Jones. He drove his car into the back of her truck. He was estimated to be going 130 miles per hour. His blood alcohol level was 0.295.

But in Texas, there’s more to the story. Texas state law allows for a divided negligence in wrongful death suits. Whoever is 51% (or more) at fault for the death can be sued successfully. And this is where the story takes a different turn. The club where Ramirez was drinking, Rick’s Cabaret International, employs strippers. According to a press release those strippers are charged a fee to display their wares at the club. The club gives credits toward paying that fee for any drinks the stripper can get customers to drink. They apparently followed this plan with Ramirez and only stopped pushing drinks on him when he ran out of money.

The short version is that the policy of the club was to push alcohol and the legal logic is that this means Rick’s Cabaret contributed to the ultimate outcome – the death of 18-year-old Katherine. It remains to be proved whether this chain of events, even if true, will add up to more than 51% of the responsibility. That’s not easy to do.

Meanwhile, Ramirez is still in jail, serving a 15-year sentence. Katherine Jones’ family still grieves. And somewhere in Texas, the next drunk driving story is playing out. Someone is getting served when they shouldn’t be-- too drunk to drive, but with enough cash to order “one more.”


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