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Drunken Motorist Could Hook Fishing Trip Hosts

(CN) - A Texas couple who each lost a leg in a motorcycle accident can advance claims that the other driver got drunk at a company fishing trip, a state appeals court ruled.

David Huff had been on a three-day fishing trip sponsored Schlumberger Technology Corp. just before he crashed his car, head on, into the motorcycle driven by Christopher Arthey and Denise Arthey.

Huff did not smell of alcohol at the scene, but he registered a blood alcohol content of 0.25 three hours later, according to police records. He was placed on probation after pleading guilty to intoxication assault.

A Schlumberger employee said he had invited Huff to the fishing trip "basically to thank him for his business and hope to strengthen the business relationship."

The Artheys sued Schlumberger on the theory that it had operated a "floating dram shop" and should have refrained from providing Huff alcohol.

Toxicologist Ernest Lykissa testified that Huff had consumed approximately 12 drinks, and that the lack of alcohol odor at the crash scene meant that he had the drinks on the boat, not at the Shoal Grass Lodge building in Port Aransas, Texas.

A Refugio County judge found for Schlumberger, but the Corpus Christi-based 13th District Texas Court of Appeals reversed last week.

"The summary judgment evidence established that Huff was drinking an unknown beverage from cans on the boat and was having trouble staying awake; that Huff was extremely intoxicated at the time he got off the boat; and that Schlumberger representatives, through their emails and invitations, encouraged alcohol consumption during the entire trip, including while fishing from boats," Justice Dori Contreras Garza wrote for the court.

"This evidence raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Schlumberger allowed a 'party atmosphere' to prevail during the entire fishing trip, whether Huff became intoxicated while on the boat, and whether Schlumberger operated a 'floating dram shop' that resulted in Huff's intoxication," she added.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Rose Vela said that the case does not require application of maritime law.

"I agree that Huff may have been drinking on the boat," Vela wrote. "Again, this does not establish that Schlumberger provided alcohol to Huff, nor does it make this a maritime case. Under the circumstances here, it was Huff's conduct, whether deemed criminal, reckless or negligent, that caused this tragic accident."

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