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Is Alcoholics Anonymous Liable for Wrongful Death?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) serves as a way for troubled people struggling with addiction issues to turn their lives around and get the help they need. However, the 12-step program is also known for attracting some people who wish to find targets of the “13th step,” exploiting women sexually and financially who are in the program. Now, a civil lawsuit in California is claiming that the organization is liable for the wrongful death of a woman in AA that was slain by a fellow participant.

Facts of the Case

Karla Mendez, 31, became involved with Eric Earle, 40, in 2011 after meeting him in an AA meeting. Ms. Mendez had no idea about his criminal background or that he had been ordered by a court to attend AA meetings. She also had no idea that he repeatedly relapsed and would become violent when drinking – evidenced by the six restraining orders out against him and history of abuse with his former spouse.

According to those who knew Mr. Earle, he would routinely go to AA meetings to find women who could provide him with housing, turn on the charm at the beginning of the relationship, but continue to drink. Ms. Mendez found that out a few months into their relationship when the police were called to her residence after she called 911. By the end of August in 2011 she was dead, beaten and asphyxiated by Mr. Earle in a violent argument.

Mr. Earle was arrested for her murder and attended the pretrial hearings with another woman that he had met at AA. He was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 26 years to life for the crime.

Civil Lawsuit against AA

Hector and Jaroslava Mendez, Karla’s parents, filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against Mr. Earle, Alcoholics Anonymous of Santa Clara, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Los Angeles County, and others. At issue in the lawsuit is whether Alcoholics Anonymous has a duty to warn participants like Ms. Mendez that she might meet a person like Mr. Earle at their meetings.

In their suit, they claim that “AA meetings are repeatedly used by financial, sexual, and violent predators as a means to locate victims.” In addition, they claim that AA “had a reckless disregard for, and deliberate indifference…to the safety and security of victims attending AA meetings who are repeatedly preyed upon at those meetings by financial, violent, and sexual predators like Earle.”

A number of participants in AA, such as Mr. Earle, are required by court order to do so. Ms. Mendez’s parents claim that this type of predatory behavior happens so often that the organization needs to take measures to protect its participants against it.

A spokesperson for AA called the issues at hand distressing and disturbing, but claimed that every chapter of the organization operates autonomously. However, many participants of AA meetings agree that predatory behavior by criminals can be an issue for vulnerable members of the organization.

Contact a Florida Attorney Today

If you or someone that you know has been hurt or killed in a similar situation in the West Palm Beach area, let the experienced West Palm Beach Personal Injury attorneys at Gary Roberts & Associates help. Call or contact the office today for a free and confidential consultation of your case.

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