A landmark decision Flores et al. vs. Exprezit! Stores recently decided by the Georgia Supreme Court might help provide safer roads, by clarifying the application of the Georgia dram shop law to grocery stores and convenience stores whose customers cause drunk driving accidents.
The Georgia Supreme Court held that the dram shop law not only imposes liability on a restaurant or bar that serves alcohol to a patron that is noticeably intoxicated, but also extends liability to businesses that sell packaged and sealed containers of alcohol like grocery and convenience stores. This decision may help make the Georgia roads safer by posing a substantial incentive for such stores to refuse alcohol sales to those that are already intoxicated and go on a “beer run.”
The dram shop law is intended to place an affirmative obligation on those who financially profit from the sale of alcoholic beverages to be responsible in the sale or serving of alcohol to people they know will soon be driving. The goal is to prevent drunken driving auto accidents throughout Georgia. The court relied on a number of criteria in reaching its decision that the law was intended to apply to the sale of closed or packaged alcoholic beverages not intended for consumption on the premises.
It was well established prior to the Flores decision that a bar or restaurant could be liable for injuries resulting from a drunken driving auto accident if the server knew or should have known that the patron was intoxicated when the alcohol was served. This decision extends that liability beyond just the server who pours the alcohol to convenience and grocery stores that engage in the sale of packaged and sealed alcohol to obviously intoxicated patrons.
The court in reaching its decision that the legislature intended the dram shop law to apply to the sale of alcohol by stores relied on the language of the dram shop statute which provides that it applies to anyone that “sells, furnishes or serves.” (Emphasis added). Because the statute uses the terms in the disjunctive, the court concluded that the legislature intended to target not only the pouring and serving of alcohol by bartenders and waitstaff but also the sale of alcohol.
The Supreme Court does point out that there may be more factual challenges in pursuing dram shop liability against a convenience store. In a bar unlike a convenience store, the bartender may have a good idea of how many drinks a person has consumed and has an extended period of time to observe the behavior of the patron. Dram shop cases often turn on evidence that may not be as readily available involving a convenience or grocery store including:
- Extended observation of the behavior by the servers
- Receipts for drinks actually consumed
- Behavior of patron observed by other witnesses in a bar or restaurant
- Direct knowledge by servers of number of drinks consumed by the patron
Generally, a clerk in a convenience store will have a very brief interaction with a customer and little time to observe the customer’s behavior. Despite the evidentiary challenges in pursuing a dram shop case against a grocery store or convenience market, the law may encourage owners of such establishments to err on the side of caution when selling alcohol to customers who have been drinking.
The Georgia personal injury law firm of Montlick and Associates represents auto accident victims who suffer catastrophic injuries or wrongful death in auto accidents with drunk drivers in the Atlanta metro area and throughout all of Georgia. If you or someone you love is injured in an accident with a drunk driver, our experienced Georgia drunk driving accident lawyers are committed to helping those injured in alcohol-related accidents obtain fair compensation for their injuries or loss of a loved one.
Our Atlanta drunk driving accident lawyers are available to assist clients throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.