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Assessing Liability for the Stewart v. Pettie Case

Background of the Stewart v. Pettie Case

On December 8, 1985, Gillian Stewart, her husband Keith Stewart, her brother Stuart Pettie, and his wife Shelley Pettie went to the Stage West, a dinner theatre in Edmonton for an evening of dinner and live theatre. Before the evening was finished tragedy had struck. After leaving Stage West at the conclusion of the evening a minor single vehicle accident left Gillian Stewart a quadriplegic. Gillian Stewart and her sister-in-law, Shelley Pettie, were both employed by Dispensaries Limited.

For its 1985 Christmas party, Dispensaries Limited paid the price of admission for its employees and their spouses and friends to attend a performance at Stage West, a dinner theatre operated in Edmonton. The admission price included the dinner and performance (play), but did not include the cost of alcohol consumed.

The two sisters-in-law, with their husbands, went to the dinner theatre together in Stuart Pettie's car, with Stuart Pettie driving. They arrived at the dinner theatre around 6:00 p.m., and were seated by a hostess at a table which they selected from a group of tables which had been set aside for the approximately 60 people in the Dispensaries Limited group.

The dinner theatre was organized with a full buffet dinner to be followed at 7:45 p.m. by a three-act play. In addition, cocktail waitresses provided table service of alcohol. The Stewart and Pettie table was served by the same waitress all evening, and she kept a running total of all alcohol ordered, which she then presented at the end of the evening for payment. Waitresses would take drink orders during dinner and before the play started, and would also take drink orders during the two intermissions. No orders were taken while the play was in progress.

Stuart Pettie and Keith Stewart each ordered several drinks over the course of the evening, ordering the first drinks before dinner, and, in addition, ordering drinks after dinner but before Act I, and then during each of the two intermissions. Their wives, on the other hand, had no alcohol during the entire evening. They were present at the table during the entire course of the evening, while the drinks were ordered, served, and consumed. Gillian Stewart's testimony was clear that she knew, at least in general terms, the amount that Stuart Pettie had to drink during the evening.

Stuart Pettie was drinking "double" rum and cokes throughout the evening. The trial judge found that he drank five to seven of these drinks, or 10 to 14 ounces of liquor. The trial judge also found that despite the amount that he had to drink, Stuart Pettie  exhibited no signs of intoxication. This appearance was deceiving, however, as he was intoxicated by the end of the evening.

Assessing Duty of Care and Liability

The group left the dinner theatre around 11:00 p.m. Once out in the parking lot, they had a discussion amongst themselves about whether or not Stuart Pettie was fit to drive, given the fact that he had been drinking. Neither his wife, nor his sister (who acknowledged that she knew what her brother was like when he was drunk), had any concerns about letting Stuart Pettie drive. All four therefore got into the car and started home, with Stuart Pettie driving, Keith Stewart in the front passenger seat, and their spouses in the back seat.

That particular December night in Edmonton there was a frost which made the roads unusually slippery. The trial judge found that Pettie was driving slower than the speed limit (50 km/h in a 60 km/h zone), and also accepted the evidence of Gillian Stewart that he was driving properly, safely and cautiously in the circumstances. Despite his caution, Stuart Pettie suddenly lost momentary control of the vehicle. The car swerved to the right, hopped the curb, and struck a light pole and noise abatement wall which ran alongside the road. Three of the four persons in the vehicle suffered no serious injuries. Gillian Stewart, however, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown across the car, struck her head, and was rendered a quadriplegic.

The expert testimony at trial was that IF she had been wearing her seat belt (which was not required by law in Alberta in 1985) her injuries would have been prevented.

About an hour after the accident, Stuart Pettie registered blood alcohol readings of .190 and .200. The trial judge found that, while it is not clear what his blood alcohol reading would have been at the time of the accident, he was, without a doubt intoxicated, and that his blood alcohol content would have been certainly over .1.

Your group – as a whole - must answer the following questions. Please be sure to put the FULL name of all group members on your assignment. You will be assessing Liability for the Stewart v. Pettie case. As per the questions below, assess what duty of care is owed (if any) and to whom.

The names get confusing! Gillian (Pettie) Stewart and Stuart Pettie are brother and sister. Gillian is married to Keith Stewart, and Keith’s wife is Shelley (and she worked with Gillian).

Only one person got injured: Gillian. Her brother Stuart was driving, and her husband Keith was in the front seat beside him. The two women were in the back seat.

They were at the Christmas party for the company where the two women worked (Dispensaries Ltd.)

1. Do you think Dispensaries Ltd. Is liable at all? Why or why not? 2 marks

2. How much responsibility for the tragedy should go to Stage West? Why? 3 marks

3. How much responsibility for the tragedy should go to the driver, Stuart Pettie? Why? 3 marks

4. What about Gillian? Is she contributorily liable? Why or why not? 2 marks

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