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West v. East Tennessee Pioneer Oil Co. In Knox County Tennessee,

West v. East Tennessee Pioneer Oil Co.


In Knox County Tennessee, a convenience store clerk refused to sell Brian Taver beer because he was already intoxicated.  However, the clerk eventually activated the gas pump and, with the assistance of two additional store employees, who helped Taver operate the pump, Taver was able to purchase a small amount of gas. 


Taver then drove off, going the wrong way on the highway and without his headlights on.  Shortly afterward, he crashed into an oncoming car, injuring Gary West and Michelle Richardson. 


West suffered several fractures of his legs, a head injury, and a broken elbow.  West works in the construction industry.  West, who has basic health insurance provided by his employer, was left with over $200,000 in personal debt as a consequence of the accident.  Richardson suffered a severe closed-head injury. 


Richardson is an administrative assistant for the state of Tennessee.  Her employer provided better health insurance coverage, so she did not end up with personal debt as a consequence of the accident. 


Both West and Richardson endured much pain and suffering.  Both were unable to work for the year following the accident. 


West and Richardson sued East Tennessee Pioneer Oil Co. [hereinafter East Tennessee], the owner and operator of the gas station/convenience store, for negligently selling gas to the obviously intoxicated Taver. 


West and Richardson also sued Taver.  Taver?s insurance company settled the case out of court.  Taver?s insurance company settled for the amount of coverage provided by Taver?s policy--$100,000 per person, per accident.


The convenience store employees are agents of East Tennessee.  A company is responsible for the acts of its employees, as long as they are acting within the scope of their employment, e.g., as long as they were doing their jobs. 


            Tennessee has two rules currently that are relevant to the case.  The first rule is a law the Tennessee legislature passed a law in 1985 known as a ?dram shop act.?  The Tennessee Dram Shop Act imposes liability on commercial vendors or social hosts who sell alcoholic beverages to minors and to obviously intoxicated persons who injure third parties. 


The second rule is a precedent created by a Tennessee court in 1955.  The precedent, announced in  Brown v. Harkleroad, 287 S.W.2d 92, is that a parent is not responsible when that parent relinquishes control of a vehicle to his or her son or daughter.  InHarkleroad, the court refused to impose liability on a father who bought a vehicle for his son, when the father knew the

son was a reckless and often drunken driver.


West and Richardson are suing East Tennessee Pioneer Oil Co for negligently selling gas to Taver when Taver was obviously intoxicated.  On a separate sheet of paper, using what you learned from the Chapter Seven, Tennessee?s dram shop act, andBrown v. Harkleroad (both described in the case), answer the following questions:


  1. Will it be difficult for West and Richardson to prove that East Tennessee has aduty to them?  Why is this question difficult?


  1. What about whether East Tennessee Pioneerbreached a duty? Hint:  Your answer needs to have the word ?reasonable? in it.



  1. Did East Tennesseecause the damage? Hint: Don?t forget you need to think about both actual and proximate cause.


  1. Why will it be easy for West and Richardson to prove theinjury and damage element of negligence?


  1. Defenses.  Assuming West and Richardson are able to prove duty, breach of duty, cause (both actual and proximate) and damage, by the preponderance of the evidence, East Pioneer will then have the opportunity to assert defenses.

Contributory or comparative negligence.  Does this theory seem relevant?



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