What Is Dram Shop Liability?

By October 23, 2023Personal Injury

Dram shop liability involves a controversial set of laws. These often misunderstood and overlooked statutes have significant consequences for businesses and individuals.

Dram shop liability laws provide victims of drunk driving accidents options to pursue compensation claims against the driver behind the wheel and certain parties responsible for supplying them with alcohol. Dram shop laws safeguard innocent victims from the domino effect of a drunk driving accident.

An accident with a drunk driver can wreak havoc on your life, causing devastating injuries that may leave you unable to work and live normally. The accident may cause disabilities that do not heal and become a debilitation you must face for the rest of your life.

Dram shop liability is complex and often met with fervent resistance from insurers and the potentially liable parties. A drunk driving attorney in Georgia can explain the laws of the state, how they may apply to your case, and the sources of compensation available to you.

Definition of Dram Shop Liability

What Is Dram Shop Liability

Understanding the detailed definition of dram shop liability and its relevance in state law allows your lawyer to determine liability under these laws. This knowledge will also pinpoint the situations in which these laws apply and whether they are relevant to your drunk driving accident case.

Dram shop liability refers to a set of laws that make businesses or individuals liable if they knowingly sell or serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who then harms or injures themselves or others.

Though the methods of selling and serving alcohol have evolved, the principle behind dram shop laws remains the same—to deter the irresponsible sale and service of alcohol and to provide avenues of recoupment for innocent victims of alcohol-related accidents.

Dram Shop Liability in Georgia

In Georgia law, dram shop liability laws prohibit establishments and individual hosts from serving alcohol to people showing visible signs of intoxication. These laws maintain public safety, reduce drunk driving incidents, and provide an avenue for victims to seek compensation for their losses when they fall victim to a drunk driver and the party that provided the driver with the alcohol.

Georgia’s dram shop law, Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 51-1-40, states that a person who willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person displaying visible evidence of intoxication, knowing that person will soon drive a motor vehicle, must pay for injuries or damages resulting from the intoxication.

Georgia’s dram shop laws work in tandem with other statutes and ordinances to maintain a system of checks and balances over alcohol consumption and to provide resources for those the irresponsible behavior of intoxicated individuals harms. It underlines the state’s commitment to the safety of its residents and the responsibility that businesses and individuals have toward their community in preventing drunk driving accidents.

The History of Dram Shop Liability

The history of dram shop liability and the evolution of these laws and their implementation in Georgia provides an important context for your legal case.

The Origin and Evolution of Dram Shop Liability Laws

Dram shop liability laws trace their roots back to early English law. The term dram shop originates from 18th-century English pubs, where the unit they used to sell alcohol was the dram. The concept of holding alcohol vendors liable for damages their intoxicated customers have caused emerged with the principle that those who profit from a dangerous product should bear responsibility for the harm it creates.

Dram shop laws in the United States became widespread in the late 19th century, reflecting concerns about alcohol consumption and its detrimental effects on others. These laws evolved with societal attitudes, public policy, and legislative trends regarding alcohol consumption, drunk driving, and personal responsibility.

Georgia’s Dram Shop Laws

Dram shop laws in Georgia were a response to the increasing issue of drunk driving and its consequences. The Georgia Dram Shop Act, or officially Georgia Code § 51-1-40, expanded the liability for alcohol-related accidents beyond the drunken individual to include those who furnished the alcohol.

The law’s initial intended scope was commercial establishments such as bars and restaurants, but over time, interpretations of the law expanded to include social hosts. The statute states that a person or entity may be responsible for providing alcohol to a visibly drunk individual who then drives.

Georgia’s dram shop law is stricter than in many other states because of the burden it places on the victim to prove the liability of the individual or establishment. In most states, it suffices to demonstrate that serving the individual contributed to their drunkenness. Georgia law requires the plaintiff to prove that the server knew the customer would soon drive, adding a layer of complexity.

A lawyer can build your case and obtain evidence of the perspective of the party serving the alcohol and whether they knew that the patron or guest was likely to drive.

To Whom Do Dram Shop Liability Laws Apply?

Dram shop laws govern businesses, their employees, and even social hosts. These laws create a community responsibility for the reckless actions of a drunk driver and instill an obligation on certain parties to perform all possible tasks to prevent a tragedy.

The primary parties liable under dram shop statutes are businesses selling or serving alcohol, such as bars, restaurants, clubs, or liquor stores. If these businesses sell or serve alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person who then causes harm to others or themselves, the injured parties can hold them legally accountable. This places a daunting responsibility on businesses and their employees to observe and assess their customers’ level of intoxication when making sales.

In Georgia, the dram shop laws reach beyond commercial establishments to include social hosts, who you can hold liable if they knowingly supply alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person who then injures you by operating their vehicle while drunk.

Who Can File a Lawsuit?

Victims of drunk driving accidents, their families, or (in fatal accidents) the deceased’s estate can file a lawsuit under dram shop laws against the parties responsible for providing alcohol. Anyone who has suffered injury or loss in a drunk-driving accident has the right to seek compensation. Depending on the specific case and circumstances, the scope of liable parties could expand to include the drunk driver, the establishment that served them alcohol, or a party host.

An experienced Georgia drunk driving attorney can navigate the intricacies of the laws and pursue the compensation you deserve from all liable parties.

Specifics of Dram Shop Liability in Georgia

According to Georgia Code § 51-1-40, a plaintiff can impose liability on a provider of alcohol if:

  • They willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully sold, furnished, or served alcoholic beverages to someone under 21 or a noticeably intoxicated person, knowing that the individual would soon be operating a motor vehicle.
  • The consumption of alcohol was a significant contributing factor in their customer’s intoxication.
  • The intoxicated customer’s driving was the proximate cause of the innocent party’s injury.

Common Scenarios Involving Dram Shop Liability

Scenarios of dram shop liability in Georgia often involve bars, restaurants, liquor stores, and even social events serving alcohol to patrons or the public. You can hold a bar liable if they continued serving drinks to a visibly drunk customer who drove and caused your accident. You may also hold private hosts liable under the state’s laws for private parties and social gatherings where they serve alcohol to a guest that injures you in an accident.

Collecting Evidence in Dram Shop Liability Cases

Evidence must prove a dram shop case. It can demonstrate whether the defendant was visibly drunk when the establishment served them, whether the establishment knew that their customer would soon drive, and how the intoxication was the proximate cause of the accident and resulting injuries. 

As a victim of a drunk driving accident, the burden is on you to prove that the liable party violated the conditions of the Dram Shop Act. You must provide sufficient evidence of the party’s actions and their awareness of the drunk driver’s condition. A Georgia drunk driving attorney can navigate these legal complexities.

Typical evidence in dram shop liability cases includes toxicology reports, CCTV footage, witness testimony, and receipts showing the number of drinks the defendant purchased. This evidence helps construct a timeline of events, which can substantiate the establishment’s liability and witness statements relating to the drunk driver.

Potential Consequences of Violating Dram Shop Liability Laws

Violating dram shop laws can have significant legal ramifications for businesses, including hefty fines, loss of liquor licenses, increased insurance premiums, and the potential for civil lawsuits resulting in substantial monetary damages.

Your Right to Pursue Damages Against a Driver and Third Party in a Dram Shop Case

In a dram shop case, if you suffer injuries and losses due to a drunk driving accident, you can seek damages against the driver and potentially the party that provided the alcohol. The law protects innocent victims of drunk driving accidents and holds guilty parties accountable.

With the services of a skilled drunk driving accident attorney familiar with the nuances of Georgia’s dram shop laws, you could collect financial compensation for medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and other damages relating to the accident. 

A drunk driving accident can cause you overwhelming expenses and injuries. You do not need to face this uncertain time alone. While filing a lawsuit may seem daunting, a competent legal professional can significantly improve your chances of winning the compensation you deserve. Your personal injury lawyer can review your rights, gather necessary evidence, navigate complex legal procedures, negotiate with insurance companies, and fight for your interests in court.