There are a couple interesting cases in the Illinois court system – one just filed, one just finished –showing the frustration of parents of teens who die as a result of drinking. Whether the civil courts will be there for them is another story, however.
Yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court exonerated a couple - Sara and Jeffrey Hutsell - of any civil liability for death of 18-year-old Daniel Bell who died in a car crash after drinking at a party in their home. The court overturns an lower court decision that found them liable. The Chicago Tribune reports:
According to testimony in a six-day trial, about 30 teens showed up at the Hutsell home in the 700 block of Summit Drive that night at the invitation of their son. One teen said she recalled cans of beer in plain sight. Another testified he played a "beer pong" drinking game in the basement. More than one teen testified to seeing Jeffrey Hutsell in the basement when underage people were drinking.
In 2007, the Hutsells were convicted on misdemeanor criminal charges and Jeffrey even served some time in jail, but Illinois’ high court “ruled unanimously that Sara and Jeffrey Hutsell did not voluntarily undertake the duty to prohibit underage drinking and possession of alcohol. That meant their actions in 2006 could not be considered negligent."
But also this week, an entirely different kind of lawsuit was filed in Illinois by the distraught mother of a 15-year-old boy - "an honor roll student and lacrosse fanatic" - who died after he drank two cans of ‘Four Loko’ caffeinated malt liquor. The manufacturer is Chicago-based. The lawsuit alleges that “the controversial drink targets underage drinkers and should be banned.”
In this case, the teen was not driving, but rather “wandered blind drunk into a highway in suburban Washington D.C. and was hit by a car.” The Chicago Sun-Times reports,
Four Loko — nicknamed “blackout in a can” by young drinkers because of its high alcohol content — has been blamed for a spate of alcohol poisoning and binge drinking incidents on college campuses across the nation.
Phusion Projects did a voluntary recall of the product, before it was forced to decaffeinate the drink in November by the FDA, which warned that caffeine was an "unsafe food additive" in their products.
Phusion, which insists it does not market to underage drinkers, says it will fight the lawsuit in court. …
Rupp’s attorneys Jeffrey Simon and John Cooney said Four Loko’s sugary fruit flavors are designed to appeal to teens, to mask the smell and taste of alcohol and to encourage “chugging,” arguing the colorful design of the drinks cans is intended to blend in with non-alcoholic drinks in store coolers and confuse sales clerks and other adults.
The combination of stimulants including caffeine in the original Four Loko recipe gave drinkers an energy boost and masked the effects of the alcohol, Simon said, meaning they “keep drinking, instead of passing out.”
This is not the first lawsuit involving Four Loko: “[T]he parents of 20-year-old Florida State University student Jason Keiran — who shot himself after drinking Four Loko on Sept. 17 last year — previously filed a wrongful death suit.” Yet, “the deaths and other high-profile poisoning cases have only increased Four Loko’s popularity as a ‘taboo’ product, Simon claimed, pointing to websites where teens boast of “getting Loko’d.”