The parents of a Jasper teenager who was killed in a drunk driving accident near Carthage on March 23, 2001, will not have a chance to be heard by the Missouri Supreme Court.
The court, in a ruling issued today, said it would not hear the appeal of Steve and Anita Ritchie, whose daughter, Kelsey, a Jasper High School senior at the time of her death, was killed following a teen party at which alcohol was served.
The Southern District Court of Appeals' ruling on that case in March indicated that parents who serve teenagers alcohol on their property can't be held liable if someone dies as a result of that act. The weight of Missouri law is against the people who actually consume the alcohol then commit wrongful acts, the opinion said.
Though it won't do the Ritchie family any good, the Missouri State Legislature closed that loophole during its last session, but the law, of course, was not in effect at the time of Kelsey Ritchie's death.
The Ritchies' lawsuit was filed against Kelly Goodman, Jeremy Shumard, Frank Shumard Jr., Sue Shumard, Danny W. Mers, and Johns Does 1 through 5. According to the Southern District Court of Appeals decision, Jeremy Shumard held a party at the home of his parents, Frank and Sue Shumard on March 23, 2001. Those in attendance included Adam Tomblin, 18, Toby Waters, 17, Noah Heath, 18, Aaron Anderson, 18, Kelsey Ritchie, 17, Anna Isles, 16.
Most of the students at the party were high schoolers and none of those attending was over 21, according to the opinion."Prior to that evening's party, several of the minors collected money from their friends and obtained a keg of beer, which they set up in the Shumards' backyard near a shed.
"On that evening, in addition to consuming beer from the keg, the partygoers built a bonfire, which they ran through and danced around; passed around a bottle of vodka, and listened to music."
At some point, according to the opinion, Anderson, Heath, Miss Isles and Miss Ritchie left the Shumard home in Heath's Ford Mustang. Heath and Anderson were in the front seat with the two young women in the back. After they had gone about a mile, Anderson asked Heath to stop the car so he could go to the bathroom. Heath parked the car, but left it in the roadway to wait for Tomblin and Waters, who they knew were coming behind them.
"Shortly thereafter, Tomblin, who was legally intoxicated and driving at a speed of approximately 82 miles per hour, crested a hill and struck the rear end of Heath's parked vehicle." Miss Ritchie and Miss Iles were pronounced dead at the scene. The others suffered serious injuries.
According to the decision, the lawsuit was based on three principles: The first was "a public policy argument which would extend joint liability to social hosts who provide alcoholic beverages to minors. Based on the fact that (the Shumards) provided alcoholic beverages to the minors in the present matter, (the Ritchies) allege 'it was reasonably foreseeable that those minors would then negligently operate motor vehicles upon public highways while under the influence."
The second principle was that the Shumards were "negligent in failing to supervise the minors attending the party upon their premises," since the intoxicated minors left the party in cars and were not prevented from doing so.
The third principle was that the Shumards were responsible for "the conduct of the various minors that attended the party at their home."
The case was dismissed by Jasper County Circuit Court Judge William Carl Crawford, who agreed with the defendants' claim that their actions were not "the proximate cause or the cause-in-fact" of Kelsey Ritchie's death. In the appeal, the Ritchies' lawyer claimed Crawford had erred by not recognizing public policy and common law in Missouri which provide that social hosts such as the Shumards "who allow minors to drink alcohol on their property and then operate motor vehicles should be jointly liable for the negligence of the minors in the use and operation of the motor vehicles."
The appeals court judges said they did not see a reason to make new law and they would not extend the provisions of the law to provide the basis for the Ritchies' case. The decision said the Ritchies could not establish that the defendants caused their daughter's death and the death of Anna Iles.
"As case law clearly sets out, based on the common law, it was the consumption of alcoholic beverages by Heath and Tomblin and not the furnishing of the alcoholic beverages to them by respondents that was the proximate cause of the untimely death of Kelsey and Anna."