Court Finds Tequila Maker at Fault in Young Woman's Death

Article excerpt

In what has been hailed as the first product liability victory against a producer of alcoholic beverages, a Texas state court has found Brown-Forman Corp., a Louisville, KY distiller, to be partially at fault in the death of a young woman who died of an overdose of tequila in 1988.

The jury found that Brown-Forman was 65% liable in the death of Marie Brinkmyer, who was a college freshman in Texas at the time of her death, because she had not been adequately warned of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption. Ms. Brinkmyer was determined to have been 35% responsible.

The jury awarded Ms. Brinkmyer's mother a $1.5 million award in the case, following close to four and a half days of deliberation. Although Brown-Forman has indicated that they will appeal the verdict, James B. Ragan, attorney for the Brinkmyer family isn't sure that they will. "The trial court excluded my evidence on the defendant's political lobbying activities, and I think that was an error. If Brown-Forman appeals, I will raise that issue by cross-point on appeal. As it stands right now, the jury ruled in their favor on the gross negligence issues. But if I had been able to get into evidence all of stuff on political lobbying, they may have lost that issue."

Ms. Brinkmyer died before mandatory warning labels began appearing on alcoholic beverages, which will limit the number of similar cases. Many product liability experts, however, feel that this verdict could open the door for other actions. This verdict could have implications for litigation on other grounds, such as marketing alcohol to underage youth.

There have been a number of product-liability cases in recent years that involved the labeling of alcoholic beverages. …

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