Dram Shop Laws and Lawsuits Against Bars
Georgia Dram Shop Laws and Bar Lawsuits
The attorneys at Simon Bridgers Spires have successfully pursued a number of Georgia bars for over-serving drunk drivers who later caused serious crashes. The firm is proud to have closed these bars down using the State’s Dram Shop laws. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40
How does the law work?
In Georgia, our legislature enacted a specific law that says that where a bar:
- serves a visibly drunk person (knowledge can be inferred if in exercise of ordinary reasonable care they should have noticed the drunken state. Becks v. Pierce, 282 Ga.App. 229, 233(1), 638 S.E.2d 390 (2006).)
- who the bar and restaurant have reason to know will soon be driving
then there is civil responsibility (legal liability).
This is harder to prove than most think and while it is relatively easy to show that someone would have exhibited signs of intoxication based on their blood alcohol level, the real fight begins in proving the establishment’s knowledge that the drinker will soon be driving.
Relevant evidence includes:
- the location of the bar and access to cabs or public transit.
- familiarity of the bartender with the customer, do you know that Steve Smith drives home every time he comes?
- visibility of the parking lot to the bouncer or bartenders. Could they see you arrive?
- surveillance video.
Real Examples of Cases Against Bars:
Estate of Eddie Ko v. ABC Corporation:
Policy limits payout of $1,000,000 where two customers of the Korean restaurant left at 3:00 AM after being served 6 bottles of Soju. Witnesses testified the customers came in already having had 10 drinks apiece. They arrived in two separate cars and the cars struck each other prior to crossing into oncoming traffic and killing the innocent victim.
Doe Family v. Lost Dog Tavern in Conyers
Three family members severely injured by a drunk driver. Proved in discovery that the bar had actual knowledge of other customers getting pulled for DUI after leaving their parking lot. Showed that the bartender and bouncer could see the parking lot to note how their customers arrived. Settled for a confidential amount after depositions showed that there was no TIPS training for the bartenders.
Doe Family v. Rancho El Molcajete
In this tragic case a local Mexican restaurant served two 16 year olds multiple margaritas while they were seated with a 6 year old child. They served them until 2 AM and then the teenagers went out and crashed the car into a tree. The massive impact fractured the little girls leg. The insurance company for the bar denied liability and we filed suit. We served discovery and determined that the Bar would have a very difficult time contradicting the evidence of serving multiple drinks to minors. Additionally, we located livestream video showing the restaurant turning into a Karaoke and dancing club after 11 despite its listed business hours being only to 11.
After the defense realized their client had been lying to them about not serving minors, the case settled at Mediation.
Examples of Appellate Rulings:
A civil suit for the wrongful death of an innocent driver hit by a man who got drunk at a house party. Discovery showed that the host cut the man off once it became apparent that he was drunk. The trial court threw the case out of court on summary judgment finding there was no evidence of the first prong; serving someone who was visibly intoxicated. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
In this case, the Georgia Supreme Court held that a convenience store that sold closed beer to a visibly drunk person can be sued for providing alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person. Whether it’s fair to require the store owner to determine whether the buyer will drink it is still a question for the jury to resolve but if the driver is already clearly drunk, pulls up to the store and buys beer and goes back to his car, no jury would have trouble finding legal responsibility.
Dram Shop cases are complex and involve issues far removed from typical car accident cases. In serious crashes, it makes sense to consult with a lawyer who knows the law in this field.