A Sebastopol man who suffered permanent brain damage in an alcohol-related car crash in 2006 is making a rare bid for a Santa Rosa winery to pay legal damages related to his injuries.
Analy High School graduate Joshua Apodaca is suing Paradise Ridge Winery, claiming employees broke state law by serving alcohol to a 19-year-old who later was behind the wheel of the car that crashed.
California law states that bars, wineries and other licensed alcohol purveyors are not responsible for what intoxicated patrons do once they walk out the door.
Apodaca's lawsuit is based on the exception to this rule, which is a prohibition on serving alcohol to obviously intoxicated minors.
"I've never heard of that happening," Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners' Association, said of lawsuits that seek to hold wineries accountable for visitors' drinking.
Walter Byck, who co-owns Paradise Ridge, a winery he founded in 1994 with his late wife, said Monday his employees did nothing wrong.
"We've been in business 14 years, and we've never had any problems with serving alcohol because we have strict rules about not serving minors," Byck said.
The lawsuit centers on the events of July 15, 2006, when Apodaca and a former Analy classmate, Sean Bradley, attended a wedding at the Fountaingrove winery for Kevin and Jennifer Tharp.
Before the event, the couple expressed concerns to winery employees about minors consuming alcohol, said Pat Emery, Apodaca's attorney.
Byck said winery records note that concern, which he said was relayed to employees. He said the winery, as usual for special events, also stopped serving alcohol at 9 p.m., roughly four hours before the crash.
"In this particular event, we made a special effort to notify all of our employees that everybody needed to be carded," he said.
Comfort, whose association represents 150 Sonoma County wineries, said these establishments make an effort to not serve underage drinkers.
"It's always a concern. We always want to make sure everyone is consuming responsibly," she said.
That task may prove harder at weddings, which can draw scores of people outside the smaller confines of the tasting room. Byck said Paradise Ridge hosts as many as 50 such events annually.
Emery said Bradley told attorneys in a deposition that he was served alcohol at the winery despite telling an employee that he'd left his identification in the car.
Bradley said he was served eight beers over the course of the evening, and that on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most drunk, he was a "six," Emery said.
He said Jennifer Tharp stated in her own deposition that Bradley was slurring his words and leaning on her as the wedding reception ended at about 11 p.m. She also reported he was wearing sunglasses.
"We have to prove, given the amount he was drinking and given what others observed of his condition, that it follows had someone looked, they would have seen that he was intoxicated," Emery said.
Bradley's attorney, Phil Kelley, declined comment through an assistant on Monday.
On the night of the crash, Bradley and Apodaca got a ride to Bradley's parents' home in Sebastopol. Once there, however, they drove off together in a Subaru sedan.
Emery said they stopped at a 7-Eleven on Pleasant Hill Avenue North, where Bradley allegedly bought two bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade. The suit names Mike Singh, Surinder Singh and Umrik Singh, owners of the 7-Eleven, and states they "gave or caused to be sold, furnished or given away alcoholic beverage to Sean Patrick Bradley, an obviously intoxicated minor."