Saturday, April 17, 2010

Family Of Student Killed In Car Crash Files $15 Million Suit In Tribal Court

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The following installment of The Tribes In The Media is an article in today's Norwich Bulletin concerning a lawsuit that was filed in the tribal court system that claims the casino and the owner of bars in the casino were negligent in serving alcohol to a man that was involved in a car accident which resulted in the death of an area student.

$15 million suit filed against Mohegan Sun
By Greg Smith
Norwich Bulletin
April 17, 2010

Mohegan, Conn. — The family of a 20-year-old Connecticut College student killed last year in a suspected drunken driving crash on Interstate 395 in Montville has filed a $15 million wrongful death suit in tribal court against Mohegan Sun and backers of several privately run casino bars.

The suit was filed by the family of Elizabeth Durante, a pre-med student from West Islip, N.Y., who died March 7, 2009, when the van she was traveling in was struck head-on by a car driving the wrong way on the interstate. Several other students were injured.

Daniel E. Musser, a former Navy sailor who told police he had been drinking in a bar at Mohegan Sun before the crash, is expected to plead guilty May 5 to vehicular manslaughter and other charges in connection with the crash.

New London attorney M. John Strafaci, who represents Kathleen and Keith Durante in the lawsuit, said Musser was visibly intoxicated when he left Ultra 88 nightclub and had a blood alcohol level of .136 more than three hours after he left Mohegan Sun. The legal limit is .08.

“Mohegan Sun casino had a responsibility to watch out for intoxicated people who are leaving the casino and not let them drink and drive. You need to have some kind of procedure to stop them,” Strafaci said.

Strafaci said Mohegan Sun After Dark and Ultra 88 have “a long history of liquor violations, including serving intoxicated patrons.”

He said it was also Mohegan Sun’s responsibility to enforce rules that prevent bars from serving intoxicated patrons.

Cathy Soper, Mohegan Sun public relations manager, said the casino cannot comment on pending legal matters.

Strafaci said if the casino is found negligent, Durante’s family could be awarded damages by a tribal judge based in part on a formula for economic loss.

“By all accounts, Elizabeth had an absolutely bright future ahead of her,” Strafaci said.

On way to mission trip

At the time of the crash, Durante was headed to Logan International Airport in Boston with other students on a humanitarian mission to Africa. She had plans to become a surgeon and, one day, travel with Doctors Without Borders.

The suit comes months after a similar suit was filed in state court against Ultra 88 permittee Patrick T. Lyons and backer Plan B LLC, of Boston. That suit makes claims under the state’s Dram Shop Law, which allows for up to $250,000 in penalties against any establishment proven to have served alcohol to an intoxicated person who later causes a death.

Strafaci said Mohegan Sun has taken the position it is not subject to Dram Shop statues but has an ordinance that allows for negligence claims.

“We’re not relying on Connecticut law. We’re saying under Mohegan law they were negligent,” Strafaci said.

Strafaci said Mohegan Sun also is listed on the liquor permit for the bar, putting it in a position to accept responsibility for what happens in the bar.

After three fatal drunken driving accidents in 2009, Mohegan Sun announced initiatives aimed at keeping a closer eye on intoxicated patrons. They include more employee training and limits on free drinks.

Durante’s death prompted Gov. M. Jodi Rell to withdraw her proposal to allow casinos to serve alcohol 24 hours a day as a way to boost state slot revenue.