What responsibility do Georgia bars, restaurants and nightclubs have in drunk driving accidents?
In jurisdictions across the U.S., if alcohol is found to be a significant factor in an injury-causing car accident, it’s possible for the victim to pursue recovery from the drunk driver, but also from the party responsible for supplying the booze. Commonly referred to as “dram shop” laws, these provisions can prove extremely valuable in terms of securing compensation.
Certain states have additionally made it possible for social hosts to be found civilly responsible if they provide alcohol to a guest who ultimately causes injury to another as a result. Here’s an outline of how Georgia dram shop law handles liability in drunk driving accident cases.
Dram shop liability in Georgia
According to Georgia Code section 51-1-40, an accident victim is permitted to hold a liquor store, restaurant or bar liable if they:
- Serve alcohol to someone under the age of 21 in a willful, knowing and unlawful manner
- Knowingly provide alcohol to someone already “noticeably” intoxicated, or
- Know that the intoxicated person will operate a vehicle soon after.
A typical scenario involves a bar patron remaining on the premises for several hours and consuming multiple drinks. He appears visibly intoxicated to those present by slurring his speech, exhibiting clumsiness and acting in a belligerent manner. He then places his car keys on the bar and says, “I’d better hit the road soon, but first one more beer.”
If the bartender provides that final drink after seeing the keys and hearing the intent to drive, the bar may be vulnerable to a civil claim if the patron gets into an accident and causes injury to another.
Georgia social host law
Georgia drunk driving laws also say that those injured by intoxicated drivers may seek compensation from social hosts, such as those who hold parties and serve alcohol under the same sorts of conditions described in the dram shop law. Again, it must be shown that the social host knew that the drunk person would be driving a vehicle soon after consuming the alcohol.
Without the knowledge that driving is soon to occur, neither social hosts nor vendors can be held legally responsible, potentially limiting the compensation available to victims.
As such, many cases in this realm require a close analysis of the facts to determine whether a defendant had the necessary knowledge to create liability.
In the case of a social host, consider the following example:
Several women gather at the home of a coworker on a Friday night for an informal happy hour. One of the women indulges in several glasses of wine over the course of a relatively short time and becomes obviously intoxicated.
Knowing that all of the women intend to drive home, the host sneaks the very drunk woman’s car keys out of her purse and suggests that she spend the night to sleep it off. If the intoxicated friend retrieves the keys without the host’s knowledge, leaves the home and causes an injury accident, the host faces no liability, because she didn’t know that the driving would occur. However, if the host let the guest drive away, she could be held liable.
Pursuing damages in a Georgia dram shop case
Like all motor vehicle accident cases, the losses sustained by victims can be truly catastrophic and impact entire families. Physical injuries, emotional strain, job loss and familial disruption are some of the serious ways lives are changed forever by another party’s negligence. As such, it’s important for those injured to begin pursuing justice as soon as possible.
Georgia’s statute of limitations says that auto accident claims must be brought in civil court within 2 years of the accident, otherwise the ability to seek financial recovery will be forfeited.
An attorney who is well-versed in Georgia’s over-serving alcohol laws can review the facts of each case and fight for compensation that may include medical bills, surgical expenses, ongoing physical therapy, home accessibility modifications, lost wages and reduced future earning capacity. Payment for physical pain and ongoing emotional trauma may also be available.
If you or a loved one were harmed by a drunk driver and you want to file a suit under Georgia’s dram shop law, contact our experienced Macon car accident lawyer to learn more about your legal options. We will aggressively assert your rights by exploring the facts, aligning with experts and working to secure the financial resources your healing process requires.