Stella Case No. 075, Originally Published: 23 June 2004
Ryan Pisco was at a party near the state university in Reno, Nev., drinking his favorite beer: Coors. By 2:45 a.m. he was drunk, and left the party. Despite not having a driver’s license, he drove away in his girlfriend’s car; her mother had given it to her.
He didn’t get very far: Pisco hit a traffic light pole at 90 mph and was killed.
Like many producers of alcoholic beverages, Coors not only discourages driving after drinking, it discourages alcohol use by under-aged consumers. The legal drinking age in Nevada is 21. Pisco was just 19, but already had a “favorite beer.”
Coor’s public stand is not good enough for Ryan’s mother, Jodie Pisco. Two years after the crash she sued Colorado-based Coors Brewing Co. and its Reno distributor in Washoe District Court.
“Coors sponsors and supports events that are attractive to minors and youthful persons, glorifying a culture of youth, sex and glamour while hiding the dangers of alcohol abuse and addiction,” the lawsuit charges. “Coors targets the youth of America with false images of conquest, achievement and success that are reckless, willful and a deliberate disregard for the impact of illegal alcohol consumption by underage youths.” The suit seeks unspecified damages, says attorney Ken McKenna, who filed the suit for Jodie Pisco.
“They should be well aware that people under 21 are drinking Coors,” McKenna told reporters. “They should be liable for the damage caused by underage drinking.”
Yeah, it’s silly that a grieving mother sues the Big Bad Corporation with deep pockets over something her son did of his own free will, but the suit didn’t stop there.
Pisco is also suing her son’s girlfriend, Heather Taylor, for allegedly allowing the adult lad to drive off in her car. (Unfortunately, my sources don’t address the obvious question of whether she was present or not, or gave him permission to use her car.) The suit also names the girl’s mother, Janice Taylor, since she gave the car to Heather.
It doesn’t stop there, either.
Pisco is also suing Joseph Combs, the owner of the house where the party was held, even though it doesn’t allege he was at the party, or even knew about it. Also named in the suit was Jessica Rodriguez, who rented the house from Combs.
Coors didn’t take the suit lying down: Nevada law prohibits lawsuits against alcoholic beverage manufacturers in such cases. When Coors threatened McKenna with sanctions for a filing frivolous suit, he dropped Coors as defendants.
Of course, McKenna used the move for publicity purposes, telling a reporter that “After doing some research, we decided that the [Nevada] Supreme Court is unlikely to be inclined politically to overturn the protection for alcohol distributors.” McKenna went on to add that he’s not the one wanting all the publicity, but rather it was his client, Jodie Pisco, who wanted the suit splashed across the news to help show the dangers of underage drinking, as if her son hadn’t already done a great job of that.
Easy! Companies who can afford lawyers to defend against obviously frivolous suits can get out of them. Now, only the grieving girlfriend, her innocent mother, the innocent homeowner and the girl renting the house are on the hook to defend against the mother’s wrath. Isn’t that great?
But McKenna isn’t so sure he wants to go forward against that group, now that Coors’ deep pockets are out of the picture. Besides, he says, “The law does give some immunity even to people who serve alcohol.” Oh yeah, the law. Darn it how that gets in the way.
And don’t forget Pisco’s mother. If her son had been drinking beer long enough to have developed a taste for a “favorite,” shouldn’t she have known about his drinking and done something about it? If anyone is to blame for her son’s actions — besides him, of course — why is his mother off the hook?
Coors’ lawyers told McKenna that “It is simply wrong to exploit the Pisco family’s grief by bringing baseless lawsuits against parties who are neither legally nor morally responsible for Ryan’s death.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
- “Reno Mother’s Lawsuit Targets Alcohol Providers”, Reno Gazette-Journal, 16 April 2004.
- “Lawyer Drops Suit Against Coors in Man’s Death”, Reno Gazette-Journal, 2 June 2004.
I couldn’t find any mention of the suit online, even searching things like “Heather Taylor” + “Jodie Pisco”, so with the suit withdrawn from the deep pockets, Coors, my guess is that it was quietly dropped in its entirely.
My 2021 Thoughts on the Case
Whether over or under 21, don’t drink and drive. As a medic I know: it gets old going to those crashes. You are affected more than you know.
TSA Case #74 dealt with a silly “reality TV” show where a special interest group sued the SciFi Channel for being so brash as to take a woman’s word for it that she was a “Voodoo Priestess”.
The case brought little comment from readers, so I take it everyone agrees with it? Well, there was one a minor quibble:
Steve in Florida: “There may actually be a little merit in the case, at least viewed from the perspective of false advertising. It seems to me that if Sci-Fi portrays the show as featuring Voodoo priestess when the person in question is really not, it could be seen as deceptive advertising. While it is true that since there is no actual product being sold this logic may be weakened, it is still something to consider. The possible ulterior motive you mentioned also doesn’t help things, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt on things like that. I can really identify with what NARC (an unfortunate acronym if ever I saw one) is saying, which is that the show is saying ‘this is what Voodoo is like,’ when it’s really not. It would be like a Buddhist (or Catholic, for that matter) being told that what is really a Lutheran practice is a Presbyterian practice (or belief).”
Well, the problem with that is, as I said in the case: who is SciFi to judge whether someone is a priest or priestess? It’s not like they can call Rome and check the credentials of a voodoo practitioner. If Ta’Shia wants to be known as a “Voodoo Priestess”, why shouldn’t the producers take her word for it? For them to insist she be labeled in a different way, indeed, could be considered religious discrimination.
Isn’t it better for NARC to portray their side of it and let people decide, rather than fight it in a stuffy courtroom? And too, religions bash each other all the time; in This is True I once wrote about one group (synod) of Lutherans calling another Lutheran synod “non-Christian”. Yeah, it looks pretty petty, but they certainly have a right to do it.
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