Alcohol ads lawsuit dismissed
Parents of Exeter woman
killed in crash will appeal.
By Jason D. Plemons / The
(Updated Monday, February 7, 2005, 6:46 AM)
The parents of an Exeter
woman killed when a drunken driver collided with their daughter's car lost
the first step last week in a legal battle against two of the country's
largest brewers when a judge dismissed their lawsuitBut it's far from
over, they say, and they will not stop until alcohol manufacturers stop
what the parents describe as a practice of targeting underage drinkers
with their advertising campaigns.
Lynne Goodwin and her husband have sought to force
Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and Miller Brewing Co. to
change how they advertise alcoholic beverages. Daughter
Casey Goodwin was killed by a drunken driver.
Renee Knoeber / The Fresno Bee
worked most of her young adult life warning her peers about the dangers
of drinking and driving. She learned the ropes from her mother, Lynne
Goodwin, who works for the Tulare County Office of Education as an
alcohol prevention specialist.
Casey Goodwin, a
liberal arts major at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, was on her way
home to Exeter for the weekend to celebrate her mother's birthday when a
car driven by a drunken driver slammed into her car on Highway 41 just
north of Kettleman City. She was airlifted to University Medical Center
in Fresno, where she died.
"I can't tell you
what that feels like," Lynne Goodwin said of the anguish the accident
caused her family.
18-year-old Fernando Ochoa of Stratford, was arrested at the scene and
charged with drunken driving. He was later sentenced to 10 years in
prison for vehicular manslaughter.
Lynne and Reed
Goodwin agreed last year to be lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit
filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of their daughter
and any California resident who purchased alcohol while younger than the
age of 21 during the past four years.
The suit sought to
force Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. and Miller Brewing Co. to change how they
advertise their beers and alcoholic beverages so that minors are not
encouraged to drink, much as tobacco corporations agreed to changes in
their advertising practices after the settlement of lawsuits brought by
state governments in the 1990s.
against other alcohol companies have been filed in Ohio, Colorado, North
Carolina and Washington. The lawsuit claims that the two companies have
made about $4 billion in sales to underage drinkers during the four-year
period that the lawsuit covers. The companies would be forced to give up
those profits if the lawsuit were successful.
But on Jan. 31,
Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman said that regulating alcohol ads
is not the job of the courts. He also ruled that the Goodwins had no
standing because they were not actually injured by the brewers.
"We really feel
confident that we will win on appeal," Lynne Goodwin said. "There's an
error in the decision."
Part of that error
may be in the judge's ruling that the Goodwins had no standing, said
attorney Rob Carey, because the judge based his decision partly on
Proposition 64, which restricts the rights of those who can sue to those
who can prove that they have been hurt.
But the Goodwins
filed their suit before that bill's passage.
"A state appeals
court just ruled this week that Prop. 64 only applies to cases from its
passage onward," Carey said.
Lisa Joley, vice
president and general counsel for Anheuser-Busch, said the ruling
refuses "to excuse minors from responsibility for the illegal act of
lawsuits like this one divert attention from proven solutions to address
the serious problem of underage drinking. Independent research shows
that parents are the most important influence in preventing teen
spokesman for Miller Brewing, said: "At the very heart of the Goodwin
case, you have two parents trying to prevent a tragedy like this from
occurring to somebody else."
Hennick added that
his company works hard at targeting a specific audience, and that
audience is mostly people old enough to legally buy alcohol.
"We are always
looking at ways we can help prevent underage drinking," he said. "We
work with parents, law enforcement and educators."
disagrees and claims in the lawsuit that the companies advertise in
magazines whose main demographics are teenagers. And they all have a
large presence on college campuses, he said.
A study released
from the Rand Corp. "found that kids who frequently viewed prominent
beer advertising displays in grocery and convenience stores were more
likely to begin drinking alcohol than peers who viewed less of these
author, Phyllis Ellickson, wrote: "Advertising that links alcohol with
everyday life — such as supermarket store displays — appears to have
more influence on drinking initiation."
But the study also
suggested that "no evidence was found that television beer ads
encouraged adolescents to begin drinking or increase their use of
alcohol." They cautioned that further study is needed in that area.
In many ways,
Carey said, the Goodwin lawsuit mirrors the early lawsuits against
"This is the kind
of area we specialize in," he said, pointing out that his firm worked on
similar lawsuits against the tobacco industry. "These cases are never
accident, Lynne Goodwin and her husband have been leading a campaign in
California to fight underage drinking and toughen alcohol-related laws.
An effort to
assess a fee on makers of beer and distilled spirits failed to make it
out of committee last year, but Lynne Goodwin managed to get the ear of
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who established a program that
helps trace where underage drinkers get alcohol.
Responsibility for Alcohol Connected Emergencies established guidelines
for police officers investigating accidents and incidents that involve
alcohol and underage drinkers. The guidelines are designed to help find
those who originally provided alcohol to the minors.
legislation, parents of teens who receive a DUI citation could face
misdemeanor charges if they knowingly provide alcohol to anyone younger
than 21 who then drives and causes a traffic crash.
But the big target
is the alcohol industry itself that targets people who are not legally
old enough to buy their products, Lynne Goodwin said.
"It's not over,"
she said. "It's not even close to being over."
The reporter can be reached at
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