Jafar Karzoun, a 20-year-old University of Connecticut student, was punched in the face during a fight at Spring Weekend on campus in Storrs in 2011. He was knocked unconscious by the blow, hit his head on the concrete and suffered a massive head injury. He died about a week later.
The man who threw the fatal punch, Edi Rapo, a 19-year-old East Hartford teen, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years behind bars for manslaughter. The episode also led to an interesting civil dispute that’s headed for the state Appellate Court.
Karzoun’s family sued the parents of one of Rapo’s friends, claiming the parents were negligent because the underage Rapo drank alcohol in their home earlier that evening. A trial court judge dismissed the claims against the parents saying they were unaware Karzoun was served inside their home.
Now a lawyer for Karzoun’s family plans to appeal, citing public policy grounds.
“We have public policy to protect minors. That’s why we have our alcohol statutes,” said Donald Altschuler, of Altschuler & Altschuler in West Haven. “Alcohol is a regulated substance and if you have it in your house and it is not under lock and key, you should be responsible if somebody is able to obtain it.”
Parents often find themselves in hot water in Connecticut for allowing their home to be used for parties where alcohol is served. But those are cases in which parents know about an organized gathering and, under the law, they are the purveyors of the alcohol.
But in this case, the trial judge said the lack of any parental knowledge was the key factor.
Heinekens In Refrigerator
The Karzouns have a wrongful death lawsuit pending against Rapo. The negligence claim was filed against Hashem and Behista Khybery of South Windsor.
On the night in question, the Khybery’s son, Jacob, who was of legal drinking age, had his friend Rapo over for a visit. While there they consumed alcohol. After a couple more friends arrived, they left for the Spring Weekend festivities on the UConn campus.
“[Rapo] was served alcohol that came out of the family refrigerator,” said Altschuler. “It appeared Mr. Khybery may have been the one who purchased it. He should be held responsible if Rapo obtained alcohol from that refrigerator.”
The Khyberys deny that Rapo drank any alcohol at their home. The parents said they were unaware Rapo even visited that night. The mother, Behista, is a nurse and was at work. The father, Hashem, was upstairs asleep.
Another friend told investigators that Rapo drank two Heinekens that were in the refrigerator.
According to court records, the Khyberys were represented by the Law Offices of John Calabrese. He could not be reached for comment.
The defense contended that even if Rapo did drink at their home, they owed no legal duty to him or anyone else because they could not be considered social hosts or purveyors of the alcohol, under the state statute that is invoked when minors are served alcohol in someone’s home.
As such, the defense filed a motion for summary judgment, saying that the Khybery parents did nothing wrong. “The evidence shows that the Khybery’s did not invite Rapo to their home. Indeed, they were unaware of his presence nor did they plan in any way for his presence or that of Jacob’s other friends in the house that evening,” wrote Judge Charles Lee in Milford Superior Court. “Accordingly the Khybery’s cannot be considered social hosts.”
The judge also addressed purveyance of alcohol.
“The court here cannot find on this record that Mr. Khybery’s keeping a small amount of beer in the refrigerator for his own use, which the adult son is alleged to have shared with his minor guest without his permission, converted Mr. Khybery into a purveyor,” wrote Lee. “Accordingly, the plaintiff’s claims against the Khybery’s based on their characterization as social hosts or purveyors must be dismissed.”
In announcing he would appeal Lee’s ruling, Altschuler said that in other states the parent would be held liable, regardless of whether the parents knew of the alcohol consumption under their roof. “I felt the fact [Karzoun] was a minor who had been given alcohol distinguished it from other cases where we’re not dealing with minors,” said Altschuler.