California Family May Be Liable for Binge Drinker

California judge has allowed a suit to be filed with a unique and untested legal strategy that expands liability of a DUI accident to family members.

The wife and brother of Joseph Lynchard could be held liable in a civil suit stemming from a driving under the influence charge that resulted in the death of a bicyclist. Lynchard ran over the cyclist after a mid-day drinking binge. His blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit. Using a legal conspiracy theory, a suit seeks damages from the two family members because they provided the car, auto insurance and alcohol for Lynchard.

California has dram-shop laws that limit civil liability for those who supply alcohol to someone who is later involved in an accident causing death. The conspiracy theory is an attempt to work around those limits. "Our position is there has to be joint action in support of a wrongful act, that wrongful act in this case is [Lynchard’s] drinking," said Santa Rosa attorney Patrick Emery.

Emery cited that Lynchard’s wife bought the auto insurance policy after a previous drunk driving incident and Lynchard’s brother purchased a pickup truck for him to use. The brother, a bar owner, also provided alcohol to Lynchard on the day of the accident. The combination of these acts demonstrates a conspiracy to commit an illegal act, said Emery, as they ultimately facilitated Lynchard’s drunk driving. Lynchard is also charged with criminal second-degree murder.

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