Corrigan v. United States, Civ. A. No. 84-787-A.

Citation609 F. Supp. 720
Decision Date20 May 1985
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 84-787-A.
PartiesJohn T. CORRIGAN, as legal guardian for daughter Maura L. Corrigan, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia


John L. McGann, Arlington, Va., for plaintiff.

Paula M. Potoczak, Asst. U.S. Atty., Alexandria, Va., for defendant.


RICHARD L. WILLIAMS, District Judge.


This action is brought by the guardian of an individual who is physically and mentally incapacitated as a result of an alcohol related automobile crash in Fairfax County, Virginia. The accident was caused by the reckless driving of a highly intoxicated off-duty serviceman, Patrick M. Patterson, who subsequently pled guilty to a manslaughter charge and was sentenced to a year in prison.

Plaintiff filed the instant action under the Federal Tort Claims Act against the United States in federal district court in Ohio, alleging that the United States was negligent in serving Patterson alcoholic beverages at various military facilities on the eve of the accident when the government knew or should have known that Patterson was underage and intoxicated. The government's actions, plaintiff claims, violated both Virginia law and applicable military regulations. The Corrigan action was transferred to this court for consolidation with 84-675-A, a wrongful death action brought against the United States arising out of the same automobile crash.1

On October 18, 1984, this Court denied the government's motion to dismiss plaintiff's claim, holding that, under Virginia law, tavern owners have an obligation to refrain from selling alcohol to intoxicated or underage patrons. Corrigan v. United States, 595 F.Supp. 1047 (E.D.Va.1984). In the course of discovery, plaintiff was granted leave to amend the complaint to allege further negligence by the government in failing to identify and treat Patterson's alcohol problem prior to the accident.


This matter comes before the Court on a trial to the bench on March 18, 1985. Pursuant to Rule 52(a), the Court makes the following findings of fact.

1. Patrick M. Patterson enlisted in the Army on June 19, 1980. After completing basic training, Patterson was sent to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California, for training in the Korean language. (Testimony of Patterson)

2. Patterson had his first experiences with alcohol while at the DLI. At first, Patterson would consume alcohol only on weekends. However, Patterson gradually started spending more and more time at the nearby Army NCO Club, which was open until 10 p.m. on weeknights and until 2 a.m. on weekends. By the end of 1980, Patterson was a regular at the NCO Club, arriving in the late afternoon or early evening and consuming large quantities of alcohol until the Club closed. At first, Patterson would drink about one 60 ounce pitcher of beer a night. Later, though, his drinking increased to three or four pitchers a night. (Testimony of Patrick Patterson)

3. When he drank at the Club, Patterson would become more relaxed, less inhibited, and a little rowdy. On one occasion, Patterson got angry with another Club patron, left the Club, and had a fight with that patron outside; Patterson was banned from the Club for ten days for this incident. On another occasion, Patterson left the Club in an intoxicated state, climbed a tree, and subsequently fell to the ground and injured himself. (Testimony of Patrick Patterson).

4. While Patterson's academic performance was satisfactory during his first few months at DLI, it began to decline in the spring of 1981. This decline was due in part to Patterson's drinking and "personal problems," and in part to his poor academic attitude and his waning interest in learning the Korean language. (Testimony of Patrick Patterson)

5. In March 1981, Patterson bought his first car, a 1973 Torino. On May 19, 1981, the military police observed Patterson driving his vehicle in a reckless manner. Although the officers chased Patterson, Patterson managed to evade them. Within minutes, however, Patterson drove off of the road, hit a tree, and was knocked unconscious; his car was destroyed. Patterson was taken to the emergency room at the Fort Ord base hospital, where his blood alcohol level was measured at .24. (Testimony of Patrick Patterson, plaintiff's exhibits 14 and 49)

6. On June 16, 1981, Patterson pled guilty to a reckless driving charge for the events of May 19, 1981. (Testimony of Patrick Patterson, plaintiff's exhibit 49)

7. Concerned about the deleterious effect that alcohol and drug abuse has upon service members, especially younger service personnel who have little or no experience with alcohol, Congress directed the armed services to establish alcohol rehabilitation programs. Pursuant to directives from Congress, the Army has commendably designed and established, through regulation AR 600-85, an Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Program (ADAPCP). These regulations were in effect throughout Patterson's tenure at DLI, and at the time of the fatal accident in December 1981. (Plaintiff's exhibit 2)

8. The stated objectives of the ADAPCP program, according to both the plaintiff's and defendant's evidence, were to prevent alcohol and drug abuse in the Army, identify abusers as early as possible, and to restore such abusers as effectively functioning members of the Army. In short, these regulations were developed only to benefit the individual service member and the Army, not the general public. (Plaintiff's exhibit 2, testimony of Dr. Wise)

9. The Army claimed a 70-75% success rate for those service personnel who entered the ADAPCP program. However, the Army claimed that its treatment was "successful" if it returned the affected person to his or her normal duties, and that person performed satisfactory work for 90 days. The program was actually far less successful in achieving long-term abstinence among alcohol abusers; the longterm success rate was especially low among young, enlisted personnel such as Patterson. (Testimony of Lt. Col. Kruzcich)

10. Army regulations indicate that Patterson's alcohol-related crash on May 19 should have been reported to Patterson's commanding officer, and to the installation's Drug and Alcohol Center. These reports would have assured Patterson's referral to the ADAPCP for evaluation and education. (AR 190-5, AR 600-85, plaintiff's exhibit 2)

11. However, due either to procedural flaws which existed in the reporting process or to clerical error, Army records indicate that Patterson's crash was never reported to his commanding officer as required by Army regulations. Furthermore, Patterson was never referred to the ADAPCP program as required by Army regulations. (Plaintiff's exhibits 12 and 24, testimony of Patrick Patterson and Lt. Col. Allen)

12. Despite his heavy drinking and his obvious problems associated with that drinking, Patterson refused to admit that he had a problem with alcohol. (Testimony of Patrick Patterson)

13. On May 21, 1981, DLI initiated proceedings to dismiss Patterson from the school for "inadequate efforts," and Patterson was officially dismissed from DLI on June 2, 1981. On June 12, 1981, Patterson received orders reassigning him to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Plaintiff's exhibits 33 and 56)

14. After serving approximately two months at Fort Jackson, Patterson was reassigned to Fort Myer, Virginia, where he reported on August 30, 1981. While at Fort Myer, Patterson worked from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Pentagon in the Ballistic Missile Defense Office, and he lived in the barracks at Fort Myer. (Plaintiff's exhibit 51, testimony of Patrick Patterson)

15. While at Fort Myer, Patterson became a regular at an Army Snack Bar which was located next to his barracks. Patterson would routinely go to the Snack Bar five to seven nights a week and stay until it closed at 10 p.m., drinking an average of three to four 60 ounce pitchers of beer a night. Even though Patterson was clearly accustomed to drinking large quantities of beer, he had little or no experience with drinking hard liquor. (Testimony of Patrick Patterson and George Devaney)

16. On weekends, Patterson would frequently drink and socialize at the NCO Club at Arlington Hall, a base located two or three miles from Fort Myer. On these occasions, Patterson would usually get very drunk. (Testimony of Patrick Patterson)

17. While at Fort Myer, Patterson did all of his drinking on military establishments because drinks were significantly cheaper there, and because military clubs did not have a "cover charge." (Testimony of Patrick Patterson)

18. In late October of 1981, Patterson purchased another car, a 1965 Ford Mustang. Patterson would occasionally use the car to drive to Arlington Hall on weekends; on other occasions Patterson would take a cab to Arlington Hall with other servicemen. (Testimony of Patrick Patterson)

19. On the afternoon of December 19, 1981, Patterson went to the Snack Bar at Fort Myer and drank several beers. After leaving the Snack Bar, Patterson ran into John Crouch, a fellow serviceman, and asked Crouch if he wanted to go to Arlington Hall and "get blitzed." Crouch declined the invitation. (Testimony of John Crouch)

20. Late that afternoon, Patterson met Jeffrey Charles, a serviceman who had recently been assigned to Fort Myer. Patterson informed Charles that he was going to the Arlington Hall NCO Club that evening, and Charles persuaded Patterson to give him a ride there that evening. Patterson then left and went back to his room. (Testimony of Jeffrey Charles)

21. At around 8 p.m. on the evening of December 19, Patterson and Charles met and went together to the Snack Bar at Fort Myer. While at the Snack Bar, Patterson consumed about three beers. Patterson and Charles left the Snack Bar at 10 p.m., and the two left for Arlington Hall in...

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