Some sets of facts just seem tailor-made for a potential lawsuit. Climbing up a ladder with a chainsaw to cut your neighbor’s tree limbs that are hanging over your lawn comes to mind. Also on that list, a day out on a boat with your friends from the local bar, more than a few beers, and a jet-ski. Those were the basic facts in Votor-Jones v. Kelly. In that case, what started out as a fun day out at sea for a group of friends became a very bad day for plaintiff and an opportunity for the court to opine on the rarely-invoked tort of negligent entrustment.
In Kelly, plaintiff was “one of seven employees and patrons of Kelly’s Tavern invited on a social trip organized by the tavern’s owner and plaintiff’s boyfriend.” While plaintiff described the event as a “bar outing,” it was not the more formal, “large scale ” “customer appreciation days” that the bar had organized in the past. Instead, it was “small and planned the night prior at the suggestion of the boat’s operator.” Each attendee was required to bring their own food and alcohol. To that end, plaintiff and her boyfriend testified that, on the morning of the cruise, they went to the bar and fulled their cooler with approximately 24 beers and a bottle of wine. The group had a total of four or five coolers like this on the boat.
The attendees had a “tacit agreement” that they would not drink until 4pm, but some apparently ignored this agreement. One defendant acknowledged that she was drinking prior to boarding the boat and plaintiff testified that she saw this woman have “at least three beers on the dock” before the cruise began. Once the cruise started, this same woman was seen with a beer in her hand and was described by plaintiff as being “loud,” “boisterous,” and “excited.” Plaintiff conceded that she did not know if the woman was drunk, but did see her “wobbling on the boat, as was everyone else.”