The plaintiff, Edith Mitchell, was forcibly stopped as she exited a Wal-Mart (defendant) store. The plaintiff, accompanied by her thirteen-year-old daughter, went through the checkout and purchased several items at the defendant’s store. As she exited, the plaintiff passed through an electronic antitheft device, which sounded an alarm. Robert Canady, employed by the defendant as a “people greeter” and security guard, forcibly stopped the plaintiff at the exit, grabbed the plaintiff’s bag, and told her to step back inside, but never touched the plaintiff or her daughter and never threatened to touch either of them. Nevertheless, the plaintiff described the security guard’s actions in her affidavit as “gruff, loud, rude behavior.” This security guard removed every item the plaintiff had just purchased and ran it through the security gate. One of the items still had a security code unit on it, which an employee admitted could have been overlooked by the cashier. When the security guard finished examining the contents of the plaintiffs’ bag, he put it on the checkout counter. This examination of her bag took ten or fifteen minutes. Once her bag had been checked, no employee of defendant ever told plaintiff she could not leave. The plaintiff was never threatened with arrest. The plaintiff brought a tort action against the Wal-Mart alleging false imprisonment, assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Is the defendant liable for any of these torts? Explain
Todd Friesenhahn, son of Nancy and Frederick Friesenhahn, held an “open invitation” party at his parents’ home that encouraged guests to “bring your own bottle.” Sabrina Ryan attended the party, became intoxicated, and was involved in a fatal accident after she left the party. Sandra and Stephen Ryan, Sabrina’s parents, sued the Friesenhahns for negligence, alleging that the Friesenhahns were aware of the underage drinking at the party and of Sabrina’s condition when she left the party. the trial court granted summary judgment for the Friesenhahns.
DECISION Judgment reversed.
OPINION Accepting the Ryans’ allegations as true, the Friesenhahns was aware that minors possessed and consumed alcohol on their property and specifically allowed Sabrina to become intoxicated. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code provides that a person commits an offense if, with criminal negligence, that person “makes available an alcoholic beverage to a minor.” A violation of a statute constitutes negligence per se if the injured party is a member of the class protected by the statute. The Alcoholic Beverage Code was designed to protect the general public and minors in particular. Therefore, Sabrina was a member of the protected class, and we find that the Ryans have stated a cause of action against the Friesenhahns for violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Code. In considering common-law negligence as a basis for social host liability, courts have relied on Graff v. Board, a prior Texas Supreme Court decision in which it was held that no third party liability should be imposed on social hosts who provide alcohol to adult guests. The Texas Supreme Court gave two reasons for its holding in Graff. first, the host cannot reasonably know the extent of his guests’ alcohol consumption level; second, the host cannot reasonably be expected to control his guests’ conduct. However, this rationale does not apply where the guest is a minor. The adult social host need not estimate the extent of a minor’s alcohol consumption, because serving minors any amount of alcohol is a criminal offense. Furthermore, the social host may control the minor, with whom there is a special relationship, in a manner analogous to that of parent-child.
While one adult has no general duty to control the behavior of another adult, one would hope that adults would exercise special diligence in supervising minors. When a party is for the purpose of engaging in the consumption of alcohol by minors, adults certainly have a greater duty of care. Moreover, in view of the legislature’s determination that minors are not competent to understand the effects of alcohol, the court found sufficient legislative intent to support its holding that a duty exists between the adult social host and the minor guest. Accordingly, the court found that the Ryans’ petition stated a common-law cause of action.
INTERPRETATION A violation of a statute constitutes negligence per se if the injured party is a member of the class protected by the statute.
ETHICAL QUESTION When should a parent be held liable for her child’s negligence? Explain.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION Should a court extend social host liability for providing alcohol to an adult guest? Explain?