Oklahoma’s Peoria Tribe Not Liable in 2006 Crash

In a reversal of a previous ruling, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has stated that a family that was injured in an automobile accident seven years ago cannot sue either the Buffalo Run Casino, where the other driver had been drinking, or the Peoria Tribe, which runs the venue.

The claim, originally filed by Charles and Jennifer Sheffer, alleged that the casino was liable because it overserved driver David Billups. Billups’ car crashed into the Sheffers’ vehicle, a tractor trailer, killing him and injuring Charles, Jennifer, and their son.

The actual decision, released earlier this fall, states:

“The Peoria Tribe is immune from suit in state court. Because the Peoria tribe and its entities did not expressly waive their sovereign immunity by applying for and receiving a liquor license from the State of Oklahoma, the tribe is immune from dramshop liability in state court.”

Dramshop liability refers to a section of Oklahoma law which makes it possible for alcohol sellers liable if someone they sell to or serve hurts someone else after drinking.

The decision in the Sheffers’ claim also reversed a 2008 case that involved the Thunder Entertainment Center. At the time of that case, the court’s decision was that tribes do waive their immunity when they receive a mixed-beverage sales license from the state.

The Sheffers’ attorney has already requested a re-hearing, and, if that request is denied, plans to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, the greater issue is the question of dramshop liability in the state of Oklahoma.

Keith Burt, director of ABLE (the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission), the organization in charge of monitoring and enforcing Oklahoma’s liquor laws, had this to say:

“We want to make sure those serving alcohol are responsible. If you take the liability away, it could be dangerous.”

To that end, Burt has requested that Kathryn Savage, an assistant attorney general providing the commission’s legal counsel, to research the agency’s ability to restrict the casino’s liquor license when it comes up for renewal next month, though, he added, that has never been done before in his state.

Because the state Gaming Compact places a one-year limit for filing claims in tribal court, the Sheffers have no recourse within the tribe.

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