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Liability of a Bar or Restaurant for Injuries or Death Caused by a Drunk Driver Under the Georgia Dram Shop Act


February 21, 2022

Drunk drivers kill approximately 28 people per day, which amounts to one death every 52 minutes in alcohol-related traffic collisions.   Under certain circumstances, a restaurant or bar in Georgia that serves alcohol to a patron may be liable for an alcohol-related accident if it over serves a customer.

Generally, Georgia law attributes liability for drunk driving accidents to the intoxicated driver, but there are exceptions to this rule.  One important exception applies when a bar or restaurant (referred to as the “Georgia Dram Shop Act”) serves a “visibly intoxicated” person. When a hospitality business serves a patron under these circumstances, the alcohol sales permit holder can be liable for a subsequent drunk driving accident caused by the alcohol-impaired patron.  

Because bar and restaurants regularly serve alcohol to customers, servers and their management are uniquely positioned to know when a customer has consumed too much alcohol to safely drive home.  Obvious signs of intoxication might include stumbling and loss of coordination, the strong odor of alcohol, slurred speech, etc.  Whether the patron came to the business intoxicated or consumed too much while at the establishment, the business cannot continue to serve the customer and hide behind a cloak of immunity.  When the customer causes an accident because he or she is intoxicated, both the bar and/or restaurant that served the “visibly intoxicated” person and the drunk driver might be liable for compensation to cover property damage, pain and suffering, medical and rehabilitation expenses, and other relevant damages authorized by Georgia dram shop liability laws.

According to O.C.G.A. 51-1-40, anyone who purposely, knowingly, unlawfully, and willfully furnishes, serves, or sells alcoholic beverages to someone who is under the lawful drinking age, knowing that the individual will be driving a vehicle in the near future, or who knowingly furnishes, serves, or sells alcoholic beverages to someone who is noticeably intoxicated, knowing that the individual will be driving a vehicle in the near future, could be held liable for property damage or injury caused by the intoxicated minor or individual when the furnishing, serving, or sale is the proximate cause the property damage or injury.  Moreover, this law does not grant the consumer of alcoholic beverages the right to recover damages from the provider of alcoholic.

While a hospitality establishment can be liable for injuries or wrongful death caused by a drunk driver that the business overserved, the challenge in proving these cases makes it important to work with an experienced motor vehicle accident attorney.  The accident victim’s attorney might seek documents like credit card records, receipts, video footage and interview witnesses, such as staff and other customers that might have observed obvious signs of intoxication while the drunk driver was served at the establishment.  If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a collision caused by a drunk driver, an experienced Georgia drunk driving accident lawyer can explain your rights and discuss your legal options for pursuing compensation.

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Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.