Friends May Be Liable for Man's Drunken Cliff Fall
(CN) - A man who fell off a cliff while intoxicated can sue the people who brought him there and waited hours to get him help, a California appeals court ruled.
After getting drunk at a party in October 2008, Jason Michael Carlsen needed a ride home because the friend who drove him to the party was having car problems.
The job fell to the friend's roommate, Zachary Gudelunas, and Sarah Koivumaki, a classmate of Gudelunas from the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.
They drove to a grocery store, from which Carlsen stole a bottle of rum. He drank some of the rum at another party, and the trio arrived at a cliff in Redding above the Sacramento River to watch the sun rise.
At the Bluffs, Koivumaki began taking about her brother, who had fallen off a bridge to his death while he was drunk. When Carlsen laughed, Kovimaki got even more upset.
Carlsen then fell off the cliff. He tried to hang on, but he tumbled to the rocks below.
Fearing that they would get in trouble, Gudelunas and Koivumaki did not call 911. Instead they waded into the river to search for Carlsen. They could not find him, however, and so went to Koivumaki's apartment. She called her mother in Canada and said "this guy committed suicide; he jumped."
Thirty minutes after the pair went to the police, Carlsen was found alive.
Unable to remember going to the Bluffs or falling off the cliff, Carlsen filed a $51 million complaint against Koivumaki and Gudelunas, alleging negligence, willful misconduct, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The Shasta County Superior Court granted Kovumaki summary judgment, ruling that she did not touch Carlsen, threaten him or breach a duty of care to him. The court also ruled that Carlsen "failed to prove his case" against Gudelunas.
In a partial reversal last week, a three-judge panel with the Third Appellate District said that the negligence and willful misconduct claims should go to trial.
Carlsen "created a triable issue of material fact as to whether Sarah breached a duty owed to Jason by bringing him to the cliff side when she knew he was intoxicated and waiting several hours to call 911 or otherwise summon aid after the fall," Justice Cole Blease wrote for the court.
Finding Carlsen's assertion that Koivumaki may have pushed him off the cliff "unreasonable," however, the court affirmed the dismissal of the assault and battery claims.
Carlsen's lack of memory of the incident also dooms his emotional distress claims, the court found.
"He cannot recall being at The Bluffs, much less his fall or waiting for help to arrive," the ruling states. "Accordingly, Sarah's conduct could not be the actual and proximate cause on any mental distress he has suffered."
The court meanwhile deemed summary judgment for Gudelunas inappropriate given his lack of response to the lawsuit.
"A defendant's failure to answer the complaint has the same effect as admitting the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint, and as to these admissions no further proof of liability is required," Blease wrote.
This is not true, however, for the assault and battery claims, according to the ruling.