Teen death prompts legislative action - CBS46 News

Teen death prompts legislative action

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  • Teen death exposes failure of state insurance laws

    Teen death exposes failure of state insurance laws

    Tuesday, May 5 2015 5:01 PM EDT2015-05-05 21:01:21 GMT
    If you're a parent you know how it feels to send your child off to school. You worry about their safety, especially when they go off to college, but you never dream something bad will happen.
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    If you're a parent you know how it feels to send your child off to school. You worry about their safety, especially when they go off to college, but you never dream something bad will happen.
    More >

For the first time since the brutal murder of his son five months ago, Michael Gatto received some positive news.

He learned there is overwhelming support for his idea of a new state law designed to make bars and restaurants more accountable when serving alcohol.

The Gatto's 18-year-old son Michael was beaten by an employee of Rude Rudy's bar in Statesboro, Georgia. He was a freshman at Georgia Southern University and had only been in college for two weeks.

"The loss is there every minute of every day and it's a physical pain, it takes your breath away," Michael's mother Kathy Lee Gatto said.

Despite being underage, the Gatto's say Michael and his 20 year old attacker, Grant Spencer, were both given passes to drink at Rude Rudy's. Spencer worked as a bouncer at the bar, but was off duty. Somehow the two got into a fight.

"He hit my son in the head and our son went to the ground and he continued to hit him and then he carried him outside and left him," Michael's father said.

Police arrested Spencer and charged him with battery and felony murder. The Gatto's said their attorney looked into the bar owner's insurance coverage to cover funeral costs and were shocked to learn he wasn't covered.

"What we found is this is a much bigger problem because it involves the whole state of Georgia and it involves everyone," Michael's father said.

State Representative Geoff Duncan hopes to pass a new law this year to prevent another tragedy.

"If we can get this across the finish line, we are truly going to save lives," Duncan said.

He's considering a liquor liability insurance requirement for all businesses serving alcohol.

"In their particular instance the bar owner shut down and was gone out of the state and there was no recourse. Liquor liability insurance would create some sort of capture of liability," Duncan said.

Many reputable bars in Georgia do carry the extra insurance. But premiums are high, and many smaller operations say they cannot afford the coverage.

"It should be a no brainer, it should be something you just want to have anyway just because of the potential catastrophe if heaven forbid something happens," Kirkyard Pub Owner Dano Kirk said.

The legislation would also raise the minimum age for bouncers from 18 to 21 and establish a better system for reporting alcohol related incidents.

"The particular bar that has been called into question where the Gatto's son was killed had 71 violations as I read in a report between 2011 and 2014 yet not one administrative hearing took place on those 71 citations. So what this bill is looking to do is take those citations that are being given out by the local authorities and by their rules and it's going to create a reporting requirement for those cities and counties to have to report within a very narrow time frame to the Department of Revenue," Duncan said.

In addition, Duncan said bar owners would be required to report themselves to the state when incidents occur or risk losing their liquor license.

The Gatto's realize a new law won't bring back their son, but they hope it will save others.

"When I hugged him goodbye and gave him a kiss and told him to be safe and sent him off to school I did not realize that would be the last time I would give him a hug or speak to him in person," Michael's mother said.

The bill will be introduced in this year's legislative session which beings next week.

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