Langle v. Kurkul, No. 82-254

Docket NºNo. 82-254
Citation510 A.2d 1301, 146 Vt. 513
Case DateJanuary 24, 1986
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

Page 1301

510 A.2d 1301
146 Vt. 513
William LANGLE, Jr.
v.
Walter KURKUL, Sr., William Kurkul, Walter Kurkul, Jr. and
Gary Kurkul.
No. 82-254.
Supreme Court of Vermont.
Jan. 24, 1986.
Reargument Denied February 25 and March 21, 1986.

Page 1302

[146 Vt. 514] Susan F. Eaton of Langrock Sperry Parker & Wool, Middlebury, for plaintiff-appellant.

Bartley J. Costello and S. Stacy Chapman, III, of Webber & Costello, Rutland, and Robert S. Burke and Edwin W. Free, Jr., of Richard E. Davis Associates, Barre, for defendants-appellees.

Before [146 Vt. 513] BILLINGS, C.J., and HILL, UNDERWOOD, PECK and GIBSON, JJ.

[146 Vt. 514] BILLINGS, Chief Justice.

In July of 1976, the plaintiff attended a party at the home of the defendant, Walter Kurkul, Sr. At the party, the plaintiff was served and consumed a quantity of intoxicating liquor and became inebriated. The plaintiff then went to defendant Gary Kurkul's residence to swim in his pool. The plaintiff was preparing to dive from the railing of the pool when the railing [146 Vt. 515] broke and he fell headfirst into the pool. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff broke his neck and became a quadriplegic.

The plaintiff's complaint alleged, inter alia, that the defendant negligently and unlawfully offered and served him intoxicating liquor; the plaintiff thereby became intoxicated, and as a direct and proximate result of this intoxication, he was injured in the swimming pool accident. The plaintiff's claims against all the defendants, except Walter Kurkul, Sr., were settled out of court. The defendant moved, under V.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint, and the court granted the motion on the ground that the plaintiff had failed to state a cause of action under either a common law negligence doctrine or 7 V.S.A. § 501, Vermont's civil damage act, popularly known as Vermont's Dram Shop Act.

The plaintiff appeals the dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a cause of action. We affirm.

I.

The plaintiff contends that he has a cause of action under Vermont's Dram Shop Act. The Act provides, in pertinent part, that:

A husband, wife, child, guardian, employer or other person who is injured in person, property or means of support by an intoxicated person, or in consequence of the intoxication of any person, shall have a right of action in his or her own name, jointly or severally, against a person or persons, who, by selling or furnishing intoxicating liquor unlawfully, have caused in whole or in part such intoxication....

7 V.S.A. § 501.

We have held in numerous instances that where the meaning of a statute is clear and unambiguous, we must construe and enforce

Page 1303

it according to its express meaning. See, e.g., Littlefield v. Department of Employment & Training, 145 Vt. 247, 253, 487 A.2d 507, 510 (1984). We also approve of the rule of statutory construction that when an enumerated list in a statute (such as "husband, wife, child, guardian, employer") is followed by a general term, the general term must be construed to include only those terms which are similar in nature to the enumerated terms. Since those persons listed in the Dram Shop Act stand in some special relation to the intoxicated person, the use of the term [146 Vt. 516] "other person" in the Act must mean someone who is similarly situated. We cannot find that the intoxicated person occupies that same special relationship. If the legislature had intended the Act to apply to the intoxicated person, it could easily have listed the inebriate along with the other persons designated in § 501. See Grenafege v. Department of Employment Security, 134 Vt. 288, 292, 357 A.2d 118, 121 (1976) ("If the legislative intent were as [appellant] contends, it would then be clearly expressed.").

We hold, therefore, that the Dram Shop Act gives a cause of action only to third persons who are injured by an intoxicated person. The Dram Shop Act provides no remedy to the imbiber, whether he be a customer of a commercial vendor or a guest of a social host, to recover for subsequent injuries to himself as the result of his consumption of too much alcohol. Consequently, we agree with the trial court that the plaintiff does not have a cause of action under the Dram Shop Act.

II.

We also reject the holding of some courts in other jurisdictions that their respective states' dram shop acts preempt a remedy under the common law in situations such as the one presented in this case. See, e.g., Cunningham v. Brown, 22 Ill.2d 23, 30, 174 N.E.2d 153, 157 (1961); Snyder v. Davenport, 323 N.W.2d 225, 228 (Iowa 1982); Browder v. International Fidelity Insurance Co., 413 Mich. 603, 615-16, 321 N.W.2d 668, 675 (1982) (dram shop act held to be the exclusive remedy). Vermont's Dram Shop Act provides a cause of action in strict liability to injured third persons; it does not address a cause of action in negligence. Therefore, it cannot be said that the Act forecloses a cause of action in negligence, since all common law that is "not repugnant to the constitution or laws shall be laws" in Vermont. 1 V.S.A. § 271. The common law is changed by statute only if the statute overturns the common law in clear and unambiguous language, or if the statute is clearly inconsistent with the common law, or the statute attempts to cover the entire subject matter. See E.B. & A.C. Whiting Co. v. City of Burlington, 106 Vt. 446, 464, 175 A. 35, 44 (1934) ("rules of the common law are not to be changed by doubtful implication, nor overturned except by clear and unambiguous language"). In this case, the Dram Shop Act does not contain any unambiguous language foreclosing the possibility of a [146 Vt. 517] cause of action in negligence. Nor is the statute, which merely gives a cause of action in strict liability, inconsistent with a possible cause of action in negligence. Finally, the statute does not purport to cover all the possible rights and remedies flowing from such injuries.

We also reject the argument that the legislature's consideration of the problem of intoxication-related injuries (as evidenced by the Dram Shop Act), coupled with its failure to enact a statute covering a situation like the one in the present case, indicates that the legislature intended to immunize the social host from liability for negligently serving liquor to his or her guests. See Harrington v. Gaye, 124 Vt. 164, 166, 200 A.2d 262, 263 (1964) (court cannot ascribe legislative intent to a mere act of omission); Saund v. Saund, 100 Vt. 387, 393, 138 A. 867, 870 (1927) (statute cannot be enlarged by implication unless necessary to make it effective to accomplish its object).

III.

We next address the plaintiff's argument that he has a cause of action in

Page 1304

common law negligence. The elements required for a cause of action in common law negligence are: (1) the defendant must owe a legal duty to conform to a certain standard of conduct so as to protect the plaintiff from an unreasonable risk of harm; (2) the defendant must have committed a breach of this duty by failing to conform to the standard of conduct required; (3) the defendant's conduct must be the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury; and (4) the plaintiff must have suffered actual loss or damage. W. Prosser and W. Keeton, The Law of Torts § 30, at 164-65 (5th ed. 1984).

The first issue we must confront is whether we should recognize a duty on the part of a social host toward an intoxicated adult guest under common law negligence. Because of our disposition of this issue and our determination that there is no legal duty owed, it is unnecessary for us to reach the other elements required for a cause of action under common law negligence.

To undertake such an expansion of the common law as this case requires, in the absence of compelling public policy reasons, would be improper judicial legislation. Wherever courts of other states have recognized the duty of a social host not to furnish intoxicating beverages to a guest where injury to a third party [146 Vt. 518] may be foreseeable, they have generally done so in one of two situations: (a) where the social host furnishes alcoholic beverages to one who is visibly intoxicated and it is foreseeable to the host that the guest will thereafter drive an automobile, or (b) where the social host furnishes alcoholic beverages to a minor.

Some courts have found a duty in cases involving negligence per se, where the defendant social host violated a particular safety statute. Some cases have involved statutes prohibiting the serving of alcohol to minors, see, e.g., Congini v. Portersville Valve Co., 504 Pa. 157, 161-63, 470 A.2d 515, 517-18 (1983) (citing 18 Pa.Cons.Stat. §§ 6308, 306 (1983)); Koback v. Crook, 123 Wis.2d 259, 266, 366 N.W.2d 857, 860 (1985) (citing Wis.Stat. §§ 66.054(20)(a), 176.30(2)(a) (1979-80)); while others involved statutes prohibiting a social host from serving alcohol to an obviously intoxicated guest. Coulter v. Superior Court, 21 Cal.3d 144, 150-52, 577 P.2d 669, 672-73, 145 Cal.Rptr. 534, 537-38 (1978) (citing Cal. Business and Professions Code § 25602 (West 1964), overruled by statute, Cal.Civ.Code § 1714(b), (c) (West 1985); Sutter v. Hutchings, 254 Ga. 194, 197, 327 S.E.2d 716, 718-19 (1985) (citing Ga. Code Ann. §§ 3-3-22, 3-3-23(a)(1) (1982)); Clark v. Mincks, 364 N.W.2d 226, 231 (Iowa 1985) (citing Iowa Code Ann. § 123.49(1) (West Cum.Supp.1983)).

Although Vermont's liquor control laws make it a misdemeanor punishable by fine or imprisonment for any person (whether a commercial vendor or a social host) to sell or furnish alcoholic beverages to a minor, 7 V.S.A. § 658, Vermont has no comparable statute making it a crime for any person (commercial vendor or social host) to sell or furnish alcoholic beverages to an adult who is visibly intoxicated. Therefore, there is no statutory basis in the present case for a finding of negligence per se.

The second ground for finding a duty on the part of a social...

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104 practice notes
  • Kuligoski v. Brattleboro Retreat, No. 14-396
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • September 16, 2016
    ...demands consideration of the policy implications underlying it—its practical benefits against its societal costs. See Langle v. Kurkul , 146 Vt. 513, 519, 510 A.2d 1301, 1305 (1986) (noting that existence of duty is primarily question of law dependent on variety of policy concerns, includin......
  • Cravens v. Inman, No. 1-90-1124
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • December 19, 1991
    ...A.2d 515 TEXAS Beard v. Graff (Tex.App.1990), 801 S.W.2d 158 UTAH Utah Code Ann. sec. 32A-14-101 (1991) VERMONT Langle v. Kurkul (1986), 146 Vt. 513, 510 A.2d 1301; Vt.Stat.Ann. tit. 7, sec. 501 (1991) WISCONSIN Koback v. Crook (1985), 123 Wis.2d 259, 366 N.W.2d 857 In contrast, only one st......
  • Clymer v. Webster, No. 88-631
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • June 7, 1991
    ...Whitchurch, 137 Vt. at 469 n. 3, 408 A.2d at 631 n. 3. We are mindful that the DSA is a strict liability statute, see Langle v. Kurkul, 146 Vt. 513, 516, 510 A.2d 1301, 1303 (1986), while wrongful death actions often involve negligent or intentional torts. See W. Keeton, Prosser and Keeton ......
  • Tobias v. Sports Club, Inc., No. 2555
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 8, 1996
    ...P.2d 1167 (Utah 1991) (dram shop act gives cause of action to injured third parties, but not to the intoxicated person); Langle v. Kurkul, 146 Vt. 513, 510 A.2d 1301 (1986) (dram shop act gives a cause of action only to third persons who are injured by an intoxicated person; no remedy is pr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
112 cases
  • Kuligoski v. Brattleboro Retreat, No. 14-396
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • September 16, 2016
    ...demands consideration of the policy implications underlying it—its practical benefits against its societal costs. See Langle v. Kurkul , 146 Vt. 513, 519, 510 A.2d 1301, 1305 (1986) (noting that existence of duty is primarily question of law dependent on variety of policy concerns, includin......
  • Cravens v. Inman, No. 1-90-1124
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • December 19, 1991
    ...A.2d 515 TEXAS Beard v. Graff (Tex.App.1990), 801 S.W.2d 158 UTAH Utah Code Ann. sec. 32A-14-101 (1991) VERMONT Langle v. Kurkul (1986), 146 Vt. 513, 510 A.2d 1301; Vt.Stat.Ann. tit. 7, sec. 501 (1991) WISCONSIN Koback v. Crook (1985), 123 Wis.2d 259, 366 N.W.2d 857 In contrast, only one st......
  • Clymer v. Webster, No. 88-631
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • June 7, 1991
    ...Whitchurch, 137 Vt. at 469 n. 3, 408 A.2d at 631 n. 3. We are mindful that the DSA is a strict liability statute, see Langle v. Kurkul, 146 Vt. 513, 516, 510 A.2d 1301, 1303 (1986), while wrongful death actions often involve negligent or intentional torts. See W. Keeton, Prosser and Keeton ......
  • Tobias v. Sports Club, Inc., No. 2555
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • March 8, 1996
    ...P.2d 1167 (Utah 1991) (dram shop act gives cause of action to injured third parties, but not to the intoxicated person); Langle v. Kurkul, 146 Vt. 513, 510 A.2d 1301 (1986) (dram shop act gives a cause of action only to third persons who are injured by an intoxicated person; no remedy is pr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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