On July 5, 2011, the Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether Georgia’s Dram Shop Act (“GDSA”), O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40, applies when a convenience store sells alcohol not intended to be consumed on the premises. The Court held that the convenience store is liable, if they sell alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron and the patron later causes and accident. Florez v. Exprezit! Stores 98-Georgia, 304 Ga. App. 333 (696 SE. 2d 125) (2010).
The GDSA (O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40) provides in relevant part that:
(a) The General Assembly finds and declares that the consumption of alcoholic beverages, rather than the sale or furnishing or serving of such beverages, is the proximate cause of any injury, including death and property damage, inflicted by an intoxicated person upon himself or upon another person, except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) of this Code section.
(b) A person who sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury, death, or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, including injury or death to other persons; provided, however, a person who willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle, or who knowingly sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is in a state of noticeable intoxication, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle, may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person when the sale, furnishing, or serving is the proximate cause of such injury or damage.
As the statute makes clear, the GDSA applies in the context of injury or damage resulting from the operation of a motor vehicle by a driver who is under the influence of alcohol, and imposes liability on a limited class of alcohol suppliers who sell, furnish, or serve alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated consumer with reason to know that the consumer will be driving a motor vehicle shortly after consuming the supplied alcohol. Delta Airlines, Inc. v. Townsend, 279 Ga. 511, 513 (614 S.E.2d 745) (2005). The Supreme Court explained in Delta Airlines that the basis for imposing liability under these circumstances is that,
“[w]here one provides alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated individual knowing that he will soon be driving his car, it is foreseeable to the provider that the consumer will drive while intoxicated and a jury would be authorized to find that it is foreseeable to the provider that the intoxicated driver may injure someone.” Id. at 513. This basis for imposing liability on an alcohol supplier under the GDSA makes sense where the alcohol is supplied for legal consumption on the supplier’s premises. In that case, the alcohol supplier knows that a certain quantity of alcohol is being furnished for immediate consumption by a noticeably intoxicated consumer who will soon be driving while further intoxicated by the furnished alcohol. Under these circumstances, a jury is authorized to impose liability on the basis that it was reasonably foreseeable to the alcohol supplier that these actions created an unreasonable risk that the consumer could cause harm by driving while intoxicated. Id.; see Ellington v. Tolar Constr. Co., 237 Ga. 235, 238 (227 S.E.2d 336) (1976) (liability for negligent acts predicated on creation of a foreseeable unreasonable risk of harm).
In the Florez case, the convenience store sold a noticeably intoxicated patron a 12-pack of beer, which he drank and he later caused a collision in which 6 people were killed and several more were injured. The parties injured in the fatal car accident brought suit against the convenience store alleging that it should be liable for causing the wreck because it sold beer to an already intoxicated person, who subsequently caused the fatal wreck. The trial court and the appellate court both held that liability did NOT extend to the convenience store. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the convenience store was liable under the Dram Shop Act.
As a practical matter, this is an important decision which allows injured plaintiffs to seek relief from an additional liable party when an automobile accident results from a drunken driver’s negligence.
Robert J. Fleming has been handling wrongful death cases, dram shop act, bus accidents, car accident cases and premises injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 20 years. He practices in and around the Atlanta, Georgia area including handling lawsuits in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb and other counties and nearby cities including Alpharetta, Austell, Avondale Estates, Chamblee, College Park, Conyers, Duluth, Decatur, Doraville, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Riverdale, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Stone Mountain, and Smyrna. If you have been seriously injured in an incident that may be covered by the Georgia Dram Shop Act and would like discuss your case, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online.