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Schooley v. Pinch's Deli Market Inc.

filed: March 15, 1996.

LORI LYNNE SCHOOLEY, APPELLANT,
v.
PINCH'S DELI MARKET, INC., A WASHINGTON CORPORATION; "DOE CORPORATION", A WASHINGTON CORPORATION D/B/A PINCH'S DELI MARKET, SPANAWAY; JAMES M. BOYD, JR., AND "JANE DOE" BOYD, HUSBAND AND WIFE, D/B/A PINCH'S DELI MARKET; AND "JOHN DOE" D/B/A PINCH'S DELI MARKET, RESPONDENTS.



Morgan, J., Houghton, A.c.j. and Wiggins, P.t.j., concur

Author: Morgan

MORGAN, J. -- Pinch's Deli Market, Inc., sold beer to Russell Bowser, a minor,*fn1 without asking for proof of age. Bowser furnished part of the beer to Lori Lynne Schooley, another minor. Schooley drank too much and was injured. The question on appeal is whether Pinch's can be held liable to Schooley. Our answer is yes.

On August 25, 1989, Bowser's parents were away, and he had access to their house and swimming pool. He was then 19.

That evening, Bowser and five other teenagers met at the house for a party. Schooley, then 18, was one of the five. She knew the house had a swimming pool, so she wore a swimsuit under her regular clothes.

All present wanted beer. Thus, they drove to Pinch's Deli, where Bowser had purchased beer at least a dozen times before. Bowser said later that Pinch's "had a cheap price on the kind of beer we liked and they didn't check for identification."*fn2

Bowser and two others went into the store. Schooley and the remaining two waited in the car. Using money contributed by all or most of the six, Bowser purchased ninety-six 12-ounce containers of beer, packed in four full cases. As anticipated, the store clerk did not ask for proof of age.

All six then went back to the house where, according to Schooley, "everybody cracked open a beer."*fn3 She "drank a few beers, I would say two to three beers."*fn4 Then, for the next hour or two, she joined in a drinking game called "quarters." As the game progressed, "we were pounding them, you know."*fn5

After awhile, Bowser and one of the others grabbed Schooley and carried her toward the swimming pool. Perceiving they were going to throw her in, she asked if she could strip down to her swimsuit. They stopped at the edge of the pool and allowed her to do that. Then, before they could throw her in, she dove headfirst into the water. Sadly, she was at the shallow end of the pool, and the water was only two feet deep. She injured her spinal cord and is now a quadriplegic.

In July 1992, Schooley sued Pinch's for negligently selling alcohol to minors. In June 1993, Pinch's filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Schooley then filed this appeal.

[1] In a negligence action, the elements are duty,

breach, causation, and damages.*fn6 It is undisputed that Schooley can prove damages. Thus, we analyze duty, breach and causation.

I

[2] The Supreme Court has stated "that an essential element in any negligence action is the existence of a legal duty which the defendant owes to the plaintiff."*fn7 This statement subdivides into the following components: (1) By whom is this duty owed? (2) To whom is it owed? (3) What is its nature (i.e., what is the standard of care)?*fn8 Each of these questions is one of law;*fn9 thus, it is to be answered generally, without reference to the facts or parties in a particular case.

[3] We take the third question first, because it can be dealt with briefly. The duty involved here requires the exercise of ordinary care when selling alcohol to a person who might be underage.*fn10 Whether it arises from statute

or the common law is not clear, but the duty is the same either way.*fn11 Ordinary care is care equal to that which a reasonable person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.*fn12

[4] To answer the first and second questions, we identify and define two classes of people. When a duty arises from contract, it is usually owed by one person or entity to another person or entity. When a duty arises from statute or the common law of torts, it is usually owed by one class of persons to another class of persons.*fn13 Because the duty involved here arises from statute or the common law of

torts, it is owed by one class of persons (the obligated class) to another class of ...


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