Paralyzed in crash after underage drinking, wins $2.5M from homeowner

by Walter Olson on February 18, 2009

George Baldwin, then 19, drank while visiting the Pfeifer sisters at their home; he got into the car as a passenger with intoxicated friend William Klairmont and was paralyzed in the resulting crash. Now Lauralee Pfeifer, the girls’ mother, will pay $2.5 million in a settlement:

Unlike other lawsuits alleging that adults played a role in teenage drinking parties, Pfeifer did not buy the alcohol for the teens or know they were drinking in her home. Pfeifer did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, said Michael Borders, her lawyer.

But Salvi said Pfeifer should have monitored the teens and suspected they were drinking, especially because her daughters had been caught drinking before.

[Chicago Tribune]

{ 22 comments }

1 Michael 02.18.09 at 12:37 pm

Works for me.

2 Ron Coleman 02.18.09 at 2:30 pm

I don’t have a big problem with this either.

3 Robert S. Porter 02.18.09 at 2:53 pm

Yes, because legal adults drinking means the parents should be responsible.

4 Patrick 02.18.09 at 2:56 pm

I kinda do Ron. If I get into a car with someone I know has been drinking (and a 19 year old is not a minor), I’m pretty blatantly contributorily negligent. Baldwin’s old enough to join the army or contract for a credit card. He’s surely old enough to take responsibility for injuring himself.

Unlike the mother, who allegedly reasonably should have known the driver was drunk, it appears Baldwin actually knew that he was with a drunk.

Now if the law in Pfeifer’s state makes it a crime for parents to be negligent in allowing under-21s to drink alcohol in the home, I might support a misdemeanor or infraction prosecution.

5 someone 02.18.09 at 3:00 pm

The injured was 19 year old, I absolutely don’t see any reason why defendant should be held liable.

The decision is totally and absolutely silly.

6 Ben Glass 02.18.09 at 4:13 pm

This wouldn’t fly in Virginia. If these facts are true (i.e. mother didn’t know about drinking) then its ludicrous to think she had any liability there. But, the case was settled and, presumabley, her insurance company is not in the business of just giving money away, so there may be more to the facts.

In many states, including Virginia, it would have been almost impossible for someone who has been drinking to recover money damages when he gets in a car with someone else who he’s drinking with. So this case seems to be a combination of (1) what’s Illinois law on the subject and (2) what facts are out there but not being disclosed because this was a settlement.

7 Bob Lipton 02.18.09 at 4:39 pm

I inform all my guests that if they are injured on my premises I will have to kill them and move the corpse elsewhere. Insurance issues, you know.

They think I’m joking.

Bob

8 Matt 02.18.09 at 4:50 pm

“Works for me”

Yup. Pay up! you’re NINETEEN and old enough to vote and fly an aircraft for the military but you are not responsible for who you get in the car with AND it’s not the millions from the driver you are after. It is the millions from where ever you can find it.
I once worked with an individual who was scared by some playground bullies and ran out into the street from between parked cars and was struck by an old lady. He said that it wasn’t her fault. He wanted the money and ultimately she lost her house and he and his scummy lawyer got the money.
George Baldwin is garbage. So is his lawyer. And the Judge. And the jury. I include all involved because that is what lawyers due when they sue.
We have all heard folks joke about not engaging in due care usually with a punchline such as “I’ll just sue”.
We all pay the price for this greed and forfeiture of responsibility.

9 Todd Rogers 02.18.09 at 5:15 pm

“should have monitored the teens” Sure…

10 Patrick 02.18.09 at 5:48 pm

“should have monitored the teens” Sure…

Heh. “Are you kids drinking?”

“Yes Mrs. Pfeifer, we’re sorry. Please call a cab…”

11 Joe 02.19.09 at 10:42 am

It doesn’t seem right at all to hold another adult responsible for the actions of someone who is no longer a minor. Even if this kid did get his alcohol from this woman’s home, she most likely wouldn’t have encouraged him to drive home with another intoxicated person.

12 ShelbyC 02.19.09 at 2:27 pm

Let’s just hold Michael and Ron responsible for all underage DUI’s.

13 Aaron 02.21.09 at 12:40 pm

Better yet, let’s just hold everyone responsible for their OWN actions. These are adults. He made the choice to drink, he made the choice to ride with a drunk driver. Feel bad for the kid, but he made his own bed…

14 freedom fighter 02.21.09 at 3:45 pm

We have a problem in America, that people simply can’t take responsibility for their own actions. When a legal adult drinks and then gets in a car with another drunk driver, that’s just stupid and in this case George Baldwin clearly should have known better.

What’s worse is that society indulges this irresponsible behavior by awarding the idiot a ton of money from someone who is innocent. We are getting to the point that everyone things they are entitled and that know one should have to face consequences and it’s destroying the country.

15 Jake 02.21.09 at 3:47 pm

Well what would happen if the gov bans the manufacture of alcohol? The gov should ban the manufacture and distribution of cigarette’s alcohol. Yes there would be loss of jobs, but after a while, people would become creative, get other jobs, the society would become a better place.

Don’t agree with me?

There is a state in India (Gujurat I think, spelling may be wrong) which has banned drugs, cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol completely. In the beginning it was tough but now its a place with very less crime(almost zero).

16 Max Kennerly 02.21.09 at 5:16 pm

“Lauralee Pfeifer, the girls’ mother, will pay…”

Baloney. She will almost certainly pay $0. Her insurance company, with extensive experience in this area, well-represented by experienced counsel, will voluntarily pay $2.5 million to avoid trial.

This whole report smells fishy; I highly doubt the plaintiff conceded a total lack of awareness by the parents, even though the article describes such as fact.

More likely, there was regular, near-constant, drinking by minors at the house with the parents’ permission. Maybe, just maybe, the parent had no knowledge of this particular event, but I can virtually guarantee all of this generally occurred with their knowledge. Nothing else explains the insurance company’s decision.

17 Bob Qwerty 02.21.09 at 9:58 pm

This is a stupid decision. The 19 year old should be held responsible, not the home owner. You can’t just make an assumption that “she new people were drinking” and slap a $2.5M price tag on it.

18 JT 02.21.09 at 11:56 pm

“George Baldwin is garbage. So is his lawyer. And the Judge. And the jury.”

I think the whole thing is pretty ridiculous myself (he’s an adult, he should be responsible for his own actions), but let’s not get carried away. There was no judge nor jury involved – this payment is a settlement to ensure the lawsuit doesn’t go to trial. George said “I’m suing you for lots of money” and before any judges or juries got involved, the homeowner and her insurance company said, “How’s $2.5M sound?” To which George, upon hanging up the phone, likely said, “Ka-CHING!”

19 Dave Asdf 02.22.09 at 12:13 am

This is a great decision. If you’re at home and don’t know that kids for which you are legally responsible are getting drunk, you either live in a mansion that crosses state borders or you’re lying.

20 Max Kennerly 02.22.09 at 1:04 am

You can’t just make an assumption that “she new people were drinking” and slap a $2.5M price tag on it.

Assume, no. But a homeowner is typically liable for injuries caused by permitting minors to drink on their property.

21 Eric Ogunbase 02.22.09 at 4:15 pm

Wow. Bunch of idiots here. What happened to personal responsibility? He was 19, knew that the drinking age was 21, and drank anyway. He then got behind the wheel, knowing drunk driving is a crime, drove anyway. He got into an accident as a result of making choices that (due to our nanny state) are repeatedly drilled into our heads from age 13 on. He doesn’t deserve a f**king penny, and should be prosecuted for drunk driving, because he could have killed someone else.

Why should an adult be responsible for other adults in their home? If a 19 year old goes out and murders someone, rapes someone, steals something, etc, we hold that 19 year old responsible. Why not in this case?

22 shay pendleton 03.25.09 at 3:39 am

I looked at this case while debating my own situation. and thought long and hard about what I should do. What about a minor- ok he turned 18 that day– but was still under legal drinking age— who was fleeing from a house party (that a fight broke out in–cops called ) hosted by adults– who knowingly served the alcohol–
he was hit by a car trying to WALK home. killed. what about him?

*holding my breath *
the mom of the deceased.

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