The answer to this question is yes—in the right circumstances. Rafi Law Firm recently won a $594,000 judgment in Gwinnett County against a nightclub that continued to serve a customer when he was drunk, and then allowed him to stumble out and get in his car, drive down 316, cross the median and strike our client head-on, causing a serious crash that resulted in a permanent leg injury requiring our client to undergo surgery and a titanium rod implant.
But isn’t that just the drunk driver’s fault since s/he is the one who got behind the wheel?
Just as we all have a duty not to drink and drive, businesses that profit from selling alcohol have a duty not to serve folks who are impaired when they are going to be driving.
Many states, including Georgia, have “Dram Shop Acts” which allow a person injured by a drunk driver to sue the business or individual that provided the alcohol to the intoxicated driver. “Dram shop” was the old-timey name for places that sold liquor, which in those days was often meted out by the dram (1/8 of an ounce). “Dram shop acts” refer to the laws of various states that authorize lawsuits against sellers or furnishers of alcohol to intoxicated persons, or to minors (intoxicated or not) who subsequently injure others.
Georgia’s dram shop law (O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40) has several requirements. The potentially liable person or business must:
- willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully
- sell, furnish, or serve alcoholic beverages
- to either a person who is not of lawful drinking age, OR a person who is in a state of noticeable intoxication; while
- knowing that person will soon be driving a motor vehicle.
The Act provides some cover to sellers who are presented with an ID issued by a government agency that meets certain requirements (e.g. a minor who uses a real government-issued photo ID that is just not actually his/hers).
It is important to note the Act also contains the following language: “Nothing contained in this Code section shall authorize the consumer of any alcoholic beverage to recover from the provider of such alcoholic beverage for injuries or damages suffered by the consumer.” Ergo, if you get drunk at a bar, tell the bartender you’re driving, they continue to serve you anyway, and you do in fact get out there and drive yourself into a tree, you cannot yourself sue the bar under the Dram Shop Act (although in that scenario, if you hit someone else, that person would have a very strong case against the bar). On a related note, if you knowingly and voluntarily get into a car with someone who you know to be intoxicated, and you get injured, you will face a high hurdle to even getting to a jury, since the defense will have a strong argument that you assumed the risk of your injury when you knowingly chose to ride with a drunk driver.
The Georgia Supreme Court has clarified that in addition to bars and restaurants, the Dram Shop Act also allows lawsuits against stores that sell packaged containers of alcohol not intended for consumption on the premises to a noticeably intoxicated adult, knowing that the intoxicated adult will soon be driving. Flores v. Exprezit! Stores 98-Georgia, LLC., 289 Ga. 466 (2011).
I worked in many restaurants and bars through high school and college and to this day have many friends in the industry. There are many commonsense safeguards and procedures that businesses can enact and follow to try to prevent serving intoxicated drivers. Be vigilant! No one wants to be the person who put a drunk driver on the road. If you or someone you know has been injured by a drunk driver, he or she may have a claim against a person or business who overserved them. Call 404-800-9933 or click here for a free case consultation with a dram shop attorney at Rafi Law Firm.