Bacardi 151 Rum Lawsuit Filed

Insurance Journal reports that a lawsuit has been filed against Bacardi, the manufacturer of 151 rum. 

The article says that "a bartender, who was not identified in the lawsuit, was pouring shots when a customer lit a menu on fire and placed it in the stream of alcohol. A bottle of Bacardi 151 that was being used to pour the shots turned into a flame thrower and sent flaming rum all over " the plaintiff.

I was involved in a similar case that went to trial in 1983.  Our client, an off-duty waitress in a restaurant in Alabama, was burned when a bottle of 151 rum exploded after a stream of the alcohol was exposed to flame.  The trial of that case resulted in the first million-dollar verdict in Nashville.

We looked at a potential products case against Bacardi at that time but decided not to pursue it.  We only made a claim against the restaurant owner.  There were several products claims pending against Barardi making such claims and I would guess that there has been more since then.  If my memory serves me correctly Bacardi 151 rum has the same flash point as gasoline.   That memory also tells me that Bacardi had, several years earlier, placed a warning label on bottles of 151 rum warning of the fire (perhaps not explosion – that is a little fuzzy to me) risk attendant to exposing 151 (and its vapors?) to open flame.  Of course, that warning does not serve to protect a customer who does not see it, but it makes for a great case against the bar.

The tough part about this lawsuit will be proving what Bacardi can do about the issue without taking the product off the market.  I am no bottling expert, but perhaps the bottle can be designed differently to reduce the risk of flashfires.  Indeed, my memory is that they made some change to address this issue, but I cannot recall what it was.   

That being said, the night after our victory we went to a great Nashville restaurant to celebrate.  At the table next to us the waiter was preparing cheeries jubilee and, guess what, he was about to use 151 rum to flame the cheeries.  In a room filled with people.  Including me.  I went over to him and explained why we were there and his face went white.  I continue to go that restaurant (most recently last week) and 23 years later they still do not use 151 rum to prepare flaming desserts.  (Any flaming dessert is still a risk in a crowded restaurant – I watch those folks extremely carefully anytime one is being prepared anywhere near me.)

The most gratifying thing about the case was the great response we received from the restaurant industry thereafter.  The restaurant we sued was a chain, and they mandated that flaming drinks could no longer be served in their restaurants.  Restaurant publications talked about the verdict, and other restaurant owners started a similar policy.   It was one of many cases when the tort system worked to deter inappropriate conduct by the defendant and others in the industry, thus preventing future injuries.

Thoughts on a Saturday morning at the lake ….

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