DUI Driver and Bar Sued by Widow of Philadelphia Cop Killed in Wrong-way I-95 Crash
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on August 5th, 2012
Philadelphia Police Officer Brian Lorenzo was simply riding home from work on his police motorcycle early in the morning July 8 on northbound I-95 near Cottman Avenue when he was hit head-on by a car being driven the wrong way on the highway.
The high-speed impact of the crash as the southbound car struck Lorenzo’s police motorcycle instantly killed Lorenzo, a 23-year veteran of the police department and father of three children. He was a member of the police department’s elite Highway Patrol motorcycle unit.
Now his widow is suing the car driver, who police have charged with drunk driving, and the bar where the driver allegedly consumed “at least 6 alcoholic beverages,” including three 22-ounce Coors Lights, two vodka drinks, and another 14-ounce beer at the T.G.I. Fridays restaurant on Street Road, according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are John D. Leck Jr. of Levittown, who was driving the Audi A6 car that struck and killed in the crash, and Carlson Restaurants, the parent company of Fridays, the paper stated. The suit will be heard in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court.
“The suit says that T.G.I. Fridays violated the law and its state liquor license by serving a visibly intoxicated Leck” on the night of the crash, the Inquirer story reports. “Leck left the TGI Friday’s so drunk that he has no recollection of where he went afterwards, until he, with a blood alcohol level of .218, killed Officer Lorenzo.”
In Pennsylvania, a driver is considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol and intoxicated if his blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08 percent or higher, according to state law.
The criminal charges against Leck include third-degree murder, homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence, aggravated assault while driving under the influence, driving under the influence, and involuntary manslaughter.
Lorenzo’s widow is suing the restaurant under Pennsylvania’s “dram shop liability laws,” which make bar, tavern and restaurant owners liable if they continue to serve alcohol to obviously intoxicated patrons who then leave and injure someone else through the operation of a motor vehicle.
A dram is a 1700’s term for a tavern that sold alcoholic drinks by the then-popular dram, which is a small unit of measure. A dram shop was a place that sold alcohol by the dram.
“Dram shop actions make bar owners and other people who make a profit selling alcohol responsible for the consequences of continuing to serve alcohol to someone who is over the limit,” said Dean I. Weitzman, managing partner of MyPhillyLawyer. “By serving them additional drinks and then allowing them to leave the establishment in that condition, the tavern owner can be held responsible for injuries to others. If you’re visibly intoxicated, the law says that a tavern owner should cease serving you alcohol at that point. The law is trying to remove the incentives for them to continue to sell additional alcohol to an intoxicated person. Because they’re making a profit by selling alcohol, they want to sell as much alcohol as possible because that’s how they make money.”
The unfortunate reality of such dram laws, however, is that they are rarely enforced, according to an investigation by the Inquirer.
In a 2009 report, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administrative report “found that while most states have so-called Serving Intoxicated People laws, enforcement is ‘relatively rare’ and criminal penalties are unclear in many states,” the story said. The reasons are many, from difficulty in proving that bartenders knew customers were drunk, to customers who didn’t visibly appear to be seriously intoxicated, the story reported.
That such laws are often unenforced is a tragedy. This is especially so when families are hugely impacted through the deaths of loved ones at the hands of drunk drivers whose drinking binges are not halted by the keen observations of restaurant and bar staff members in a moment’s notice.
Dram shop rules exist to protect society as a whole and to punish bars and restaurants that continue to serve alcohol to customers who are already intoxicated.
While these cases of serving too much alcohol to customers may in fact be difficult to prove, these laws are on our books and should be enforced and prosecuted whenever they arise.
A verdict against the bar and servers in the Lorenzo case won’t bring Officer Lorenzo back to life, but it could help clearly remind tavern owners that continuing to serve patrons once they are intoxicated is not acceptable, and that they will be held accountable.
That’s perhaps the best thing that can come out of this tragic case at this point.