A Georgia strip club has been ordered to pay $1.75 million in damages to the family of a mother who was killed in a wrong-way crash in 2008. This past Thursday, a jury found that the club negligently over-served the drunk driver alcohol shortly before the accident. Liability of this nature falls under Georgia’s dram shop law. It was an accident that claimed his life and the lives of two others, including a young mother, Fatima Bird. While it was never determined exactly how many drinks the club patron had, reports show his blood alcohol level was nearly five times the legal limit. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution quotes attorney Trent Speckhals, of Speckhals Law, who goes so far as to say, “It’s not like someone would be unnoticeable in that condition.” Other experienced Atlanta car accident attorneys are likely to agree. With a BAC of nearly .4, there had to have been a notable loss of control over both cognitive and physical functions, which would have been obvious to the average passerby, much less to a waitress or staff members who had contact with the driver throughout the duration of his club visit.
This case again brings attention to the debate of whether “dram shops” should be held liable for failing to “take the keys” from patrons who appear to be intoxicated or have consumed one too many alcoholic beverages. And again, the jury’s response to this question seems to be a resounding yes. Originally, the term “dram shop” referred to colonial times when taverns used units of liquid measurement called drams to serve alcohol. Today, dram shop liability in Georgia means that that bars, taverns, liquor stores, and other businesses (including grocery and convenience stores) that purvey alcoholic beverages may be held liable for the damages caused by their patrons.
The Dram Shop Act and similar laws are meant to curb instances of selling alcohol to minors and to individuals who are visibly intoxicated. It appears to be a broad and far-reaching theory that reaches even into the recesses of private homes as even owners or social hosts who serve alcohol to guests at a private party, have a responsibility to avoid serving alcoholic beverages to a person who is visibly intoxicated.
However, be advised that just because you may have been involved in an accident where the driver had a blood alcohol level that is over the limit, does not necessarily mean that you will automatically have an additional claim against the entity that served the liquor, beer or wine. It is necessary to first demonstrate that the server knew, or should have known that the patron was intoxicated upon serving the last alcoholic beverage. This standard is commonly known as a “constructive” or “implied” standard.
The applicable statute, O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40, which was first codified in 1988, requires that, a.) In addition to proving that the patron was noticeably intoxicated when the drink was sold, it must also be shown that b.) The shop knew that minor or intoxicated person would soon be operating a vehicle and that c.) The act of furnishing the alcohol was the proximate cause of the injuries that resulted.
Under Georgia law, those who injure themselves as a result of their own intoxication are not permitted to recover damages from the establishment that provided them with the alcohol.