The federal government is liable for damages claimed by the victim of a 1981 car accident on Lee Highway for which a soldier who had been drinking at a military club was held responsible, U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams ruled yesterday.
The ruling stems from an $11 million suit in Alexandria federal court brought against the United States by John T. Corrigan, the father and guardian of Maura L. Corrigan, who is in an irreversible coma as a result of the accident.
His ruling sets a legal precedent in Virginia for those seeking damages from an establishment that served alcohol to a person later held responsible for a fatal car crash.
The family of a man killed in the same crash also sued the U.S. government. Last week, the government agreed to pay the family of Michael T. McDonnell $250,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
On Dec. 20, 1980, Army Specialist Patrick M. Patterson, then 19, drank at the Army-run disco called Arlington Station Hall.
He was served liquor despite the fact he was underage and already intoxicated, according to court records. Patterson's car later hit the car driven by McDonnell, killing him and injuring Corrigan, a passenger in the car.
Patterson's blood alcohol level at the time of the accident was .26, or twice the level considered legally intoxicated, according to court records. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Arlington County and served 90 days in jail.
Both the McDonnell and Corrigan families argued in their suit that the U.S. government was ultimately responsible for the car accident because Patterson had been served liquor the night of the crash at a military-run bar.
The families also charged that the Army was negligent in not following its own regulations for identifying and treating servicmen with alcohol abuse problems.
Court records show Patterson had had a car accident in 1981 in Monterey, Calif. while he was intoxicated, but he was not placed in a rehabilitation program.
A hearing has been set for May 16 in which the amount of damages the federal government must pay the Corrigan family will be assessed.