The Reach of Dram Shop Law

A wrong-way crash on Georgia State Route 400 the morning of August 15, 2012 is reigniting legal discussion regarding Georgia’s “dram shop” law. In this instance, an allegedly drunk driver caused a head-on collision after entering GA 400 headed in the wrong direction, killing the driver of another car and himself. The driver’s passenger survived and is claiming that the establishment in which they drank alcohol prior to her companion getting behind the wheel should have done more to prevent the accident. An employee of the bar had taken the driver’s keys and given them to the driver’s friend. The friend later returned the keys to the driver, just prior to the accident. While the case is still being investigated and many details are still to be discovered, one question is: How far does the dram shop law reach?

The dram shop law states that victims of alcohol-related car crashes or other injury incidents can sue the bar, the restaurant and/or the staff if it is found that they have served alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated patron who they could have reasonably assumed would soon be behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. In Georgia, the statute has led to several lawsuits against restaurants and bars in Atlanta. A dram shop claim typically is in the name of a third-party who has been killed or injured in a drunken driving accident, when there is likelihood that the driver was overserved. The civil lawsuit claim is filed against the business or person that served alcohol to someone, with a resulting injury or death.

Georgia statutes substantially limit dram shop liability in drunk driving injuries; servers may be held financially responsible only if they served alcohol to someone noticeably intoxicated (which can be subjective), or to someone they knew would be driving a motor vehicle relatively soon after, or to a minor.

The dram shop law has successfully been applied outside of the bar and restaurants service; party hosts have also been known to face dram shop claims, as has, in one case, an employer who served his employees after hours, one of whom later was killed in a drunken driving accident. In 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling and stated that a convenience store was accountable for selling beers to a noticeably intoxicated man who then caused a fatal highway accident in 2004. Though the argument was made that the beer was not consumed on premises, the Court found that it was possible for the shop clerk who sold the alcohol to note the man’s level of intoxication and means of transportation.

There currently are thirteen states that do not have some form of the dram shop law on the books: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Nathan Williams is a Brunswick personal injury lawyer, Brunswick divorce attorney, criminal defense and Brunswick DUI lawyer in Southeast Georgia. Visit or call 1.912.264.0848.

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