The court upheld District Court Judge Steven Cranfill’s September 2010 dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit against Doug and Denny Freier, owners of the Stockman’s Bar and Lounge in Basin and the Smokehouse Saloon in Greybull.
The Freiers were out of town and unavailable to comment.
In 2008, John and Carol Munkberg were killed when a van driven by Randall LaBrie of Malta, Mont., who had a blood alcohol level of 0.16, struck their car west of Greybull.
The 2009 suit filed by Paul Baessler, son of Carol Munkberg, and Karen Schmid, daughter of John Munkberg, was brought against the tavern owners, claiming they served LaBrie alcohol despite his obvious intoxication.
The court decision cited Wyoming statute 12-8-301(a): “No person who has legally provided alcoholic liquor or malt beverage to any other person is liable for damages caused by the intoxication of the other person.”
“The point is that the Legislature, a policy-making branch of government, chose not to place that duty on the alcohol provider,” said the written court decision.
Chief Justice Marilyn S. Kite and Justice William Hill did file a dissenting opinion, saying state statute does not preempt cities and towns from enacting ordinances to reduce damages caused by intoxicated individuals.
“I also disagree that the Legislature has preempted the field so as to preclude cities and towns from enacting ordinances intended to reduce damages caused by excessive consumption of alcohol in their communities,” wrote Kite in the decision. “Were I writing the majority opinion, I would hold that (Wyoming Statute) 12-8-301(a) means what it says — no person who legally provides alcohol to another person is liable for damages caused by that person’s intoxication. I would further hold, however, that under (Wyoming Statute) 12-8-301(a) a person who provides alcohol to another person in violation of the law, including a municipal ordinance, may be liable for such damages.”
For Baessler, the question is, who is responsible when an intoxicated individual’s judgment is impaired?
“What will it take to change the minds and remove the liquor lobby from the state?” Baessler asked Sept. 6. “Not only for the citizens, but the tourists that do not know that this law is absent and (that they) are at risk on the roads.”
“Why would someone with impaired judgment, especially over the legal limit, be able to decide if they have had too much?” Baessler asked. “Let a third party person, who is sober, assist in making that call. Most states, with larger populations and establishments, have this law already.”
As he had in the past, Baessler said he will continue to push for legislation to save lives.
“To say it is impossible is a cop out,” Baessler said.
One of the Munkberg’s grandchildren got married last weekend. “Wish my parents were here to see it,” Baessler said.