Georgia Supreme Court Analyzes Wrongful Death Claim by the Family of a Drunk Driver under Georgia’s Dram Shop Law
Alcohol impaired drivers cause many motor vehicle crashes which lead to approximately 10,000 preventable deaths each year. If a person is injured in an Atlanta car accident caused by a drunk driver, the injured motorist might have a right to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against the negligent motorist. This remedy offers limited solace if the drunk driver is uninsured or underinsured. In this situation, the injury victim or family of a wrongful death victim might look to the bar, restaurant or other business that served a visibly intoxicated driver (in addition to uninsured motorists benefits under their own policy if they have that coverage). The Georgia Dram Shop Law imposes liability on a business that serves alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person under certain circumstances.
A recent Georgia Supreme Court case raises the question of whether a drunk driver's family (the drunk driver died in the accident) can bring a wrongful death claim against a business based on Georgia's Dram Shop Law. In Dion v. Y.S.G. Enterprise, the widow of a man who died in a car accident brought a wrongful death claim against the bar at which the husband had been drinking prior to his fatal car crash. The husband allegedly began drinking alcohol at 2:30 in the afternoon and continued drinking until 10:45 in the evening. Because the husband was noticeably intoxicated, an employee of the bar attempted to take the man's keys. The patron refused to relinquish the keys and attempted to drive home. After the crash, his BAC level was .282, which amounts to more than three times the legal limit.
The wife's wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the bar's employee was the proximate cause of the collision because it continued to serve the man despite the fact he was noticeably intoxicated. The bar filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that Georgia's Dram Shop Act does not permit a drunk driver to seek compensation against a business for his or her own injuries. Since a wrongful death action is derived from the rights of the decedent, the state's highest court found that the Dram Shop Act did not authorize a lawsuit under these circumstances. In other words, Georgia Code Section 51-1-40(b) does not permit an intoxicated driver to sue a business for dram shop liability, so the family could not pursue a wrongful death claim on behalf of the alcohol impaired driver.
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This case demonstrates the unique issues that can arise when a drunk driver causes a serious collision. A habitual drunk driver might have no license or insurance, which might mean an investigation must be undertaken to identify other viable defendants. Our auto accident attorneys at Montlick & Associates have been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and in 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.