As a wise man once said: “Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and answer to, all of life’s problems.” People with alcohol sale permits and people serving alcohol to guests need to be especially careful when serving guests or patrons. Here is some information on Georgia’s “Dram Shop” and social host liability laws.
“Dram shop” laws affect people who sell or serve alcohol to patrons. The term comes from a common amount of liquor per serving, known as a dram. Georgia “Dram shop” law is codified in Code section 51-1-40(b). It starts with the general law that people who “sell, furnish, or serve” alcohol are not liable for the subsequent acts of the intoxicated person. This follows the old common law tradition placing liability on the person who was drunk, not the establishment that provided the drinks.
Of course, like any law, Georgia modified the common law to create some exceptions to the general rule of no liability. Here are the exceptions that can put a bar owner or bartender on the hook for damage caused by the intoxicated patron:
1. You Served Someone Underaged
This is such a no brainer it is actually in the general law before the specific exceptions. Georgia bars the “furnishing to, purchase of, or possession” of alcoholic beverages to minors under age 21. While there are a few specific exceptions (such as providing alcohol to your underage child if the alcohol is consumed in your home, so long as you stay home with them), generally if you know someone is under age 21 and you give them alcohol, then you are breaking the law. If you “reasonably doubt” someone is 21 or older, you are required by law to ask for ID.
2. You Know They Will be Driving Soon
If you know a patron will be driving in the near future, you must “cut them off” if you want to avoid being liable for their subsequent acts. The tricky part is determining what the law means by “soon.” Georgia courts have ruled you do not need to actually know someone will be driving soon if you reasonably “should have known” the person will be driving “soon”. Verbal indications such as “let’s go” or “come on” may be sufficient to put the bartender on notice that person will be driving soon. If you sell to a minor, watch out – “soon” can mean as far in the future as four and a half hours!
3. You Sell to Someone Who is “Noticeably Intoxicated” (Who Will Soon be Driving)
The final exception is the sale to someone who is “noticeably intoxicated”, who you know will soon be driving. Most bartenders know when someone is drunk, but not everyone reacts to alcohol the same way. Thus, it may not be enough to say “he didn’t look or act drunk to me” if you want to avoid liability. Courts will look to all evidence, both direct (i.e. a Breathalyzer test, sobriety check, expert testimony, etc) and circumstantial (i.e. people testifying how person was or was not “noticeably intoxicated”) when making this determination. The exception within the exception: you are still not liable for serving someone who is “noticeably intoxicated” so long as you know they will not be driving “soon.”
Georgia Social Host Liability
Social host liability is a separate, but related, issue. There are certain common law duties people owe to party guests and other people that are invited or licensed to be on your property. Are you liable as a “social host” when you serve alcohol to your partygoers who subsequently injure another person? As any good legal answer starts, “it depends.”
1. Did You Serve Noticeably Drunk People?
Georgia makes it very clear you cannot continue to serve alcohol to someone who is in a “state of noticeable intoxication.” That does not necessarily mean you are liable for the drunk person’s subsequent actions, it simply means at a minimum you broke Georgia state alcohol laws yourself.
2. Did Someone Else Throw the Party at Your Place?
Georgia says you will NOT be liable if people drink alcohol “in the absence of and without the consent of the owner, lessee, or lawful occupant.” Therefore if your friends throw a raging party at your place without your knowledge, you will not be on the hook for any of their subsequent drunk acts.
3. Did You Serve Alcohol to a Minor?
If you haven’t figured it out already, serving alcohol to a minor is a big deal in Georgia. At a minimum you will have broken the law even if nothing bad happens as a result. If something bad does happen, the minor child’s custodial parents can sue you if they did not give permission.
4. Did You Invite Frank the Tank?
The guy that “brings the party” is also the guy that can bring the liability. Georgia courts have allowed cases to go to trial against social hosts when an intoxicated person “presented a danger” to other people at the gathering and failing to remove the drunk partygoer was a breach of the duty “to keep the premises safe.” Furthermore, “constructive knowledge” is sufficient if you could have “easily noticed and removed” the hazard. Finally, claiming people “knew what they were getting into” or “assumed liability” is not generally sufficient to stop liability.
Do you have questions about what you read? If so, contact us here.
Thank you for reading this article. The information contained in this article is for discussion purposes only. The information contained in this article is not legal advice upon which you should act and simply reading this article does not make you a client of Norris Legal, L.L.C. or any other law firm. Thank you again.