October 19, 2011

Talk About Bad Timing

As the Major League Soccer regular season comes to a conclusion, things in DC United land just took another unexpected turn. The team’s been in a skid for the past few weeks, in spite of the lure of the playoffs dangling right in front of them. Nothing exemplifies that more than Saturday’s home game against Chicago, where DC appeared to salvage a late win on a Dwayne de Rosario penalty kick, only to concede two goals to the Fire in stoppage time.

So the club’s playoff hopes hang by the slenderest of threads (win the last two games and appeal to the fates for help), when this happens.

Two years ago, Charlie Davies was a rising star with the US National Team. A skilled forward with blazing speed scoring goals in a top European league (France’s Ligue 1, with Souchoux), he appeared to be the answer to the perpetual American quest for a true finisher up front. Then, before a World Cup Qualifier against Costa Rica in DC, Davies broke curfew, went to a party, and wound up involved in a horrific car wreck. Davies was severely injured, another passenger was killed, and the driver, who was drunk, was later convicted of manslaughter.

One of the feel good stories at the beginning of the season was Davies’s return, playing for DC United on loan from Souchoux, after recovering from his injuries.. Although he’s not back to his prior form (and has developed a reputation as a bit of a diver), Davies’s 11 goals have helped keep DC in the hunt all season. It’s still a pretty good story.

Save for this latest complication. Davies has sued, for $20 million, both the club at which the party was held and, ironically, Red Bull (which, of course, owns the hated rivals from New York) which organized it. DC, apparently, has a version of a statute commonly called a Dram Shop Act, which allows people injured by someone to sue the providers of the alcohol they consumed, if it was obvious the person was drunk and should have been cut off. The theory, then, would be that the club (and vicariously Red Bull) should not have continued to serve alcohol to the driver because she was visibly intoxicated.

It sounds to me (with the caveat that I have no experience with this kind of litigation – to quote Herman Cain, “I don’t have any facts to back this up, but . . .”) that this will be a tough sell. For one thing, it seems to me that Dram Shop Acts were designed to protect wholly innocent third parties, not others associated with the drunk driver. In other words, to compensate the driver of the other car, not the passengers who rode with the drunk driver. I imagine a jury will want to know how, if the driver was so obviously intoxicated, Davies didn’t see that as well. His lawyer’s already out in front on that question:
We believe the facts will show, among other things, that Mr. Davies had no interaction with the driver at the Shadow Room and was in a separate room. Without getting into detail, as he was leaving, the driver asked if she and her friend could give him a ride to his hotel. In the hustle and bustle of the lobby as he was walking out -- a split-second decision — he said yes. There was no meaningful time in which Mr. Davies had an opportunity to ‘observe’ the driver; he had no knowledge what she had been drinking or whether she had been drinking.
We’ll see how that goes (see Update below). More problematic, at least to the extent that Davies’s suit is looking for compensation due to his missing out on the World Cup last year and his career generally coming to a halt, he’s really go nobody to blame for that but himself. Had he heeded the instructions of his coach, he never would have been out in that situation at all. I don’t know if Dram Shop Act cases deal with contributory/compensatory negligence, but I’ll bet a good defense attorney makes sure that information gets in front of a jury, regardless.

But, above all, what shitty timing. Davies has been a spotlight player for DCU and the league this year. He was in the mix for the Gold Cup squad this summer before he picked up a knock. I understand that the timing is down to the statute of limitations (most states have a 2-year statute of limitation on tort suits), but still. To anyone predisposed to see any lawsuit as a bad thing, Davies looks like a guy who made a bad decision trying to fob it off on someone else, at a time when his team is in desperate need of cohesion. It’s going to leave a bad taste in the mouth of not just DC fans, but many USMNT fans as well.

Davies may very well win his suit, one way or the other. But I wouldn’t count on being welcomed back into the good graces of the American soccer faithful anytime soon.

UPDATE:  Of course, he told Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl something different earlier this year:
Davies says he didn't drink any alcohol that night, and Roberta and Espinoza, in his words, 'seemed completely normal. There wasn't even a second where I thought they might have had too much to drink.'

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