In a 6-1 vote, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled a Dayton area strip club is not responsible for the serious injuries one of its dancers caused in a drunk driving motor vehicle collision after work.
On the night of July 3, 2010, Mary Montgomery was working as a dancer at the club and said she consumed three beers, which customers had purchased for her.
After Ms. Montgomery left the club at 2 a.m., she lost control of her vehicle and struck the car in which Nicole Johnson was a passenger. As a result of the crash, Ms. Johnson suffered severe injuries including a traumatic brain injury, head fractures, a collapsed lung, and a lacerated liver. She incurred over one million dollars in medical bills.
At trial, the jury heard evidence that when customers bought drinks for dancers, the club charged a higher price than they paid for their own beverages. The club’s owner, Michael C. Ferraro, said the venue typically drew 200 to 300 customers a night, and 95 percent of the club’s profits came from alcoholic drink sales. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury awarded Ms. Johnson $2.85 million in damages for past and future medical expenses, past and future pain and suffering, and lost wages. The jury split liability 50-50 between Ms. Montgomery and the club where she worked.
On appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, the case, Johnson v. Montgomery, 2017-Ohio-7445, centered on whether Ms. Johnson could sustain a claim against the club where Ms. Montgomery worked. The type of claim, known as a Dram Shop action, allows victims to file a lawsuit against establishments that knowingly serve alcohol to intoxicated persons.
Until the Court’s decision, the Dram Shop statute was unclear whether the law applied to employees/independent contractors of the bar or only to patrons of the facility. The court held that victims may bring claims against clubs for the actions of their employee/independent contractors, but further affirmed that Ms. Johnson had not sufficiently proven that the club knowingly served alcohol to an intoxicated person, in this case, Ms. Montgomery.
Writing in dissent, Justice William O’Neil stated, “I am unable to join a majority decision that absolves from liability a liquor-permit holder who encourages the dancers in its club to drink alcohol in order to reap enormous profits from the drinks purchased for the dancers, does not monitor the intoxication level of the dancers, and then sends them out on the roads without ensuring that they are fit to drive.”
The Court’s decision maintains the extremely high bar victims must meet in order to successfully bring a claim against establishments over serving their workers and patrons. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Ohio Association for Justice, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine all supported upholding Ms. Johnson’s verdict against the club.