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In suit, car rental firm told Irish likely to drive drunk

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

A Florida lawyer appears to have uncorked a storm with his assertion that a car rental company should not have given a 33-year-old Irish tourist a vehicle because he was likely to drink.

In an Orlando lawsuit, attorney John Stemberger is suing Dollar Rent-A-Car for renting a Plymouth Neon to Sean McGrath, who is charged with killing his girlfriend, Carmel Elizabeth Cunningham, 24, in an alleged drunk-driving crash in February 1998.

Cunningham’s two children, aged 3 and 5, survived the accident.

The negligence lawsuit, filed last March in Orange Circuit Court, is brought by Cunningham’s parents and the children in an attempt to recover her funeral costs and their loss of her companionship and guidance.

Stemberger, according to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, said Dollar Rent-A-Car should have known McGrath was likely to drink and that alcohol consumption in pubs is a major part of Irish life.

"Anyone who has studied Ireland [knows] it’s just a fact," Stemberger reportedly said.

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He added that he has nothing against Irish people, the Sentinel added. And Stemberger doesn’t want the company to stop renting cars to the Irish. But he said the Irish, as well as other renters, should be warned about the hazards of drinking and driving.

Stemberger himself, according to the Sentinel, hasn’t been to Ireland. He was unavailable for comment to the Echo.

Dollar Rent -A-Car’s public relations office in Tulsa, Okla., declined to comment to the Echo until it has reviewed the article in the Orlando Sentinel, which appeared Tuesday.

Orlando attorney Peyton Hodges, who is representing the car rental company, told the Sentinel that the lawsuit was ludicrous.

"The plaintiff’s attorney is saying we have a duty to violate the constitution of the United States, to discriminate against people based on their national origin," he said. "The absurdity of the allegation speaks for itself."

Stemberger’s comments enraged Kathleen Reineke, past president of the Irish American Club of Central Florida.

She said that pubs in Ireland are like family restaurants, and not all patrons drink.

Conviction for drunken driving in Ireland results in a six months’ disqualification and a fine. Repeated offenses result in driver’s licenses being suspended for up to three years.

McGrath himself is not named in the civil suit, but is charged in criminal court with drunken-driving manslaughter, according to the Sentinel.

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