Casa Tua not liable for woman’s illness, judge rules

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
An Aspen judge ruled Wednesday that a local restaurant and bar is not responsible for a woman’s medical bills after she allegedly was over-served and incapacitated in August, forcing a trip to the hospital.

Julia Penny of Woody Creek sued Casa Tua LLC in January after she said she drank one and a half margaritas during dinner on Aug. 23 and became ill. She sought $3,770.

Penny told Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely of Pitkin County small-claims court that she had asked for the drink in a tall glass. Given how busy the restaurant was, she said she thought it would have a lot of ice and last longer.

Halfway through her second margarita, though, Penny said she was forced to abruptly leave the restaurant and take a taxi home.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, what is wrong with me?’” she said.

Once home, “I was crawling around on my hands and knees,” Penny said. “I was so scared.”

She called 911, and an ambulance took her to Aspen Valley Hospital. Penny submitted to Ely reports from the doctor who treated her and from a police officer after she made a complaint against Casa Tua.

Her speech was slurred, but she was discharged a few hours later after her vital signs appeared fine, Ely said, reading from the doctor’s report. The doctor advised her to not drink to excess and to follow up with a physician at a later date.

In response to a question from Ely, Penny said she did not have any drinks before going out that night to meet friends.

She didn’t have any of the acquaintances she was with that night come to testify on her behalf. Ely told her that they could have testified to her not having alcohol on her breath when she arrived at Casa Tua.

Penny said Aspen police officer Casey Ward spoke to her friends, one of whom said that she “was not doing shots and dancing on the tables.”

Casa Tua denied Penny’s claims, and its restaurant manager, Mark Yaeger, brought up two incidents from Penny’s past that belied her statement that she doesn’t drink much.

One was a driving-while-ability-impaired case from 2004, the other a police encounter in 2008. An officer in the latter case found her in a disoriented state, and, according to a police report Yaeger introduced in the trial, she said she may have been drugged during a concert.

She also told the officer that she was a regular drinker and liked to party, but “completely blacked out after the third drink,” Ely read, citing the report.

Ely told Penny that when she orders a big drink, she needs to be specific about how much liquor should go in it.

“The bartender justifiably believed you wanted more than a standard drink,” Ely said.

Penny may have also had a stronger drink because she’s a local, something the bartender knew, Ely said. Locals sometimes are treated “with a little more generosity,” she said.

Ely added that, given the two police reports that Yaeger brought up, it is clear that Penny is aware of the effects of alcohol.

chad@aspendailynews.com