Expansive Reach of Georgia Dram Shop Liability Important for Drunk Driving Victims
Intoxicated drivers adversely impact the lives of many families throughout the United States every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that drivers endanger other vehicle occupants, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians 112 million times per year by climbing behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol impaired drivers also claim the lives of over 10,000 people annually, and MADD reports that someone is injured by a drunk driver every 90 minutes according to data from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), and someone is killed every 53 minutes.
Although victims of drunk drivers and their families typically have the legal right to file a lawsuit for personal injury or wrongful death, people convicted of driving under the influence are more likely to be uninsured. The increased risk that a motorist with DUI convictions will be uninsured means that individuals harmed by drunk drivers often need to look to other parties for compensation.
Fortunately, Georgia imposes fairly broad dram shop liability, which was extended by the Georgia Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Flores v. Exprezit Stores 98-Georgia, LLC, 289 Ga. 466 (2011). In this case, our state’s highest court held that Georgia’s dram shop act applied to convenience stores that sell closed or packaged containers of alcohol, which are not intended for consumption on the premises to a noticeably intoxicated adult. Exprezit prevailed in lower courts based on the contention that the dram shop law only applied to businesses where alcohol was intended to be consumed on the premises like bars and restaurants.
Exprezit argued that convenience store employees do not have the same opportunity to observe customers as employees serving alcohol in a bar or a restaurant. The court rejected this argument by pointing out that the convenience store might be able to prevail in such a case on a motion for summary judgment if the store employee did not have enough opportunity to observe the customer and know that he or she was noticeably intoxicated.
The Flores decision was highly contested, but a study conducted by the NHTSA and cited by MADD in an amicus brief provided persuasive factual evidence supporting the policy of expanding the reach of the dram shop act. The study involved actors pretending to be intoxicated when purchasing alcohol. The results of the study revealed that business where customers consumed alcohol “on premises” were served when noticeably intoxicated 76 percent of the time while customers of businesses where alcohol was served “off premises” served individuals that appeared to be noticeably intoxicated 83 percent of the time.
Ultimately, the broad reach of Georgia’s dram shop law increases the probability that victims of drunk drivers and their families will be fairly compensated for their loss. Businesses potentially subject to liability have the ability to adapt their practices to reduce the risk of serving obviously intoxicated patrons and to ensure against the risk of making a mistake. The Flores decision encourages convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores, and big box retailers to reiterate to its employees the prohibition of selling alcohol to anyone who may appear to be intoxicated.
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If you or your loved one has been injured in a collision caused by a drunk driver, you might be entitled to financial compensation. Know your legal rights! Our Atlanta attorneys at Montlick and Associates have been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast for over thirty years, 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.