By Gus McDonald
A business that serves alcohol to a patron will be liable if that patron, as a result of intoxication, causes a motor vehicle collision resulting in injury or death to a third party. In 1981, Georgia courts established a new claim called “Dram Shop liability.”
Common sense would lead a person to conclude that Georgia courts take a harsh stance on restaurants and corporations that over-serve patrons with alcohol, allow the patron to drive, and injure an innocent citizen; after all, Georgia is the leading state in the nation when it comes to punishment for DUI offenders.
The Georgia legislature has set numerous hurdles for the injured third party to recover damages from a preventable collision. A business who sells or serves alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not be responsible for injury, death, or damage caused unless the injured innocent party can prove that the patron was (1) served alcoholic beverages while in a state of noticeable intoxication, and (2) the business knew that the patron would soon be driving a motor vehicle.
A business may also be held responsible if the injured party can show the business served a minor that caused the collision. The law contains no provision for liability caused other than by the operation of a motor vehicle.
Subsection (c) of O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40 provides that a person providing alcohol to a minor who purports to present identification demonstrating that person to be of legal age is entitled to a rebuttable presumption that the alcoholic beverages were not provided unlawfully.
Georgia’s dram shop law applies to every business that sells alcohol to patrons. This applies to alcohol that is sealed and not intended for consumption on premises, such as with a liquor or convenience store. It also applies to private homes and parties if the owner or host provides the alcohol, although an action may not succeed if the consumer of alcohol is unknown to the homeowner. It does not, however, apply to an airline serving alcohol to its passengers, as the Georgia Supreme Court found that the airline could not foresee whether its passengers would soon be driving, as required under the statute.
In order to prove a dram shop case, it is critical to secure all available evidence demonstrating that the intoxicated person actually consumed alcohol on the premises of the business, and that the defendant or agent have some knowledge of intoxication.
Nevertheless, there must also be evidence, whether the person was of legal drinking age or not, that the individual providing alcohol had knowledge that the consumer was about to drive. Examples of evidence that would assist in proving such a case would include receipts showing the purchase and consumption of a large quantity of alcohol, security video of the intoxicated (or minor) patron holding car keys, and evidence that the person providing alcohol actually saw the consumer arrive by vehicle.
A business may offer the defense to a dram shop action based on the absence of knowledge by the employee furnishing the alcohol that the patron would soon be driving.
The Georgia Supreme Court holds that an injured party need only show that the business failed to exercise reasonable care to determine whether the patron was noticeably intoxicated and would soon be driving. This is a much broader standard than actual knowledge.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a DUI, do not hesitate to seek legal counsel. The roots of your claims could go much deeper than that of just another DUI accident. It could go as deep as shared responsibility and more monetary compensation for a victim if an establishment served an already noticeable intoxicated patron alcohol with knowledge that the patron would be operating a motor vehicle whenever he or she was leaving the establishment. Being a victim of a DUI accident is overwhelming enough, but where are you to turn if you believe you have a dram shop claim on your plate? Look no further than the law offices of McDonald & Cody. Our team of attorneys have the education, financial resources, and experience to take your case on full force.