Jennifer Graham, The Canadian Press
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SGI sues bars that served drunk driver who killed a family | Canadian Insurance
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SGI sues bars that served drunk driver who killed a family

Bars have a legal obligation to make sure their customers don’t harm themselves or someone else, says SGI’s executive vice president

Catherine McKay’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit when she drove into a car carrying the Van de Vorst family in January 2016, killing a couple and their two young children.

Now, Saskatchewan’s Crown-owned insurance company is suing two Saskatoon bars that served McKay alcohol.

“She was three times over the limit and no one prevented her from driving. Someone has to be responsible, and as a result of no one doing that, there was a family of four that was killed,” Earl Cameron, executive vice president of Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), said Thursday.

“There’s a legal obligation to make sure your patrons are safe and they don’t harm themselves or someone else.”

Related: Record amount of distracted driving tickets for Saskatchewan

McKay was driving an SUV that struck the Van de Vorst family’s car as it crossed a highway just north of Saskatoon on Jan. 3, 2016.

Jordan Van de Vorst, who was 34, and his 33-year-old wife, Chanda Van de Vorst, died at the scene. Their five-year-old daughter, Kamryn, and her two-year-old brother, Miguire, died in hospital.

McKay was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of impaired driving causing death.

SGI has filed a statement of claim against the bars, Industrial Kitchen & Bar and Crackers Licensed Cocktail & Dining Room.

The claim alleges that each tavern over-served McKay and knew or ought to have known she was impaired. The lawsuit alleges the taverns allowed McKay to drive away without taking action.

It also states that the Industrial Kitchen and Lounge Corporation was aware that McKay frequently consumed alcohol at the business to the point of becoming impaired.

Related: Aggressive driving tops monthly list of traffic offences in Saskatchewan: SGI

“I’m not going to say what the bars should have done. I’m going to say the bars, in this case, could have prevented this had someone intervened,” said Cameron. “Three times over the legal limit, I think you can tell. Let’s not sugar-coat this. Three times.”

Cameron said bars have training and rules to follow when it comes to serving alcohol and “this is a case where this person left the bar clearly intoxicated.”

The phone number for Industrial Kitchen & Bar was no longer in service and a link to the restaurant’s website redirected to a different restaurant.

Sean Cunningham, the owner of Crackers restaurant, said Thursday that he and partners bought the business in August 2016 – months after McKay was served and the fatal crash occurred.

Cunningham said he’s contacted SGI about the lawsuit. “I believe it should be under the previous owner. At this time right now, I’m not sure if it is,” he said.

Cameron said SGI also plans to file a suit against McKay.

This is the first time SGI has filed such a claim, but similar suits have been filed in other parts of the country.

From the archives: 2014 SGI Broker Conference

Earlier this year, a British Columbia court found that a man convicted of drunk driving and the pub that served him were jointly responsible for a crash that left a pedestrian with brain damage.

The SGI suit seeks $95,000.

When asked what he hoped the suit would accomplish, Cameron choked back tears and said: “Ultimately, no more accidents like this one.”

Lou Van de Vorst, Jordan’s father, said he hopes this lawsuit sends a message that bars need to be more accountable for their actions.

“It’s just a very good thing,” Van de Vorst told radio station CKRM. “I think it will make liquor or establishments that serve alcohol take a second look at what they’re doing, if they’re over-serving or if they’re serving people who are obviously impaired.”

Saskatchewan has some of the highest rates of impaired driving in Canada. Statistics Canada says there were 683 police-reported impaired driving incidents per 100,000 population in Saskatchewan in 2011. The Canadian average was 262.

SGI says alcohol is a factor in nearly half of all fatal traffic collisions in the province.