How Does Georgia's Dram Shop Act Apply In Auto Accident Cases?
Many states impose civil liability on restaurants, bars, and other sellers of alcohol for injuries and deaths caused by patrons who consumed alcohol either sold by or consumed on their premises. The state of Georgia is no exception. Georgia's legislature enacted O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40 to address the problem of patrons over serving alcohol to patrons who then drive a car under the influence of alcohol. The law is supposed to deter establishments from over serving patrons. The law also serves as a reminder they have a responsibility to preserve the safety of the public by trying to prevent driving under the influence of alcohol.
A person injured by a drunk driver in an accident may file a claim against the establishment at which the drunk driver was consuming alcohol. Liability against the facility is not automatic. In fact, Georgia's law imposes strict legal requirements to hold the establishment liable for damages. Georgia's legislature enacted the statute with a preamble that specifically states the public policy of the state of Georgia. According to Georgia's electorate, people who consume alcoholic beverages are liable for the damage they cause and blame should not be shifted to individuals who sell alcohol in the state. Notwithstanding the declared public policy of the state, 51-1-40 does impose Dram Shop liability in certain circumstances.
To prevail on a Dram Shop claim in Georgia, Georgia Code § 51-1-40 requires a claimant to prove the seller or provider of the alcoholic beverage willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully:
• serves or sells alcohol to a person who is underage with knowledge that the intoxicated person will drive "soon";
• serves or sells alcohol to a person who is noticeably intoxicated with knowledge that the drunk person will drive "soon"; and
• Serving such person is the cause of the injury or damage suffered by the complainant.
The statute does not define "soon." An example of "soon" would be serving an apparently intoxicated person right before closing time with the knowledge that the person plans on driving. Proving knowledge on behalf of the bartender could include evidence that the bartender saw car keys in the drunken person's hand or the drunken person said he or she was going to drive away.
Proving that the bartender or server knew that the person was intoxicated might be difficult as well. Most people are familiar with certain signs of intoxication such as slurred speech, incoherent speech, glassy and bloodshot eyes, lacking coordination, stumbling, rambling, and perhaps being overly aggressive or overly friendly. But, some of those signs are easy to miss in a crowded bar. The sound in the establishment might render the person's speech inaudible. Also, the bartender might not be familiar with the person and stumbling, especially if it is subtle, and it could even be confused with a limp. In other words, there can be innocent explanations for what might otherwise be considered signs of intoxication.
The claimant must also prove that the consumption of alcoholic beverages proximately caused the injuries or death. Put another way, the injury or death must be foreseeable by the person who distributed the beverages and serving the alcohol must have lead to the crash in some logical way. Additionally, serving of the alcohol must not be too remote from the collision. If it is, then it may be difficult to prove the connection between consuming alcohol and the accident.
If you or someone you love was injured or killed in a drunken driving accident, you need to seek experienced and skilled drunk driving accident attorneys who can help you maximize your financial recovery.
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Barnes v. Smith, 794 SE 2d 262 - Ga: Court of Appeals 2016
Dion v. YSG Enterprises, Inc., 766 SE 2d 48 - Ga: Supreme Court 2014
Atlanta Ob. & Gyn. v. Coleman, 398 SE 2d 16 - Ga: Supreme Court 1990
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