In a frustrating decision, the Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled that the Georgia Dramshop Act , OCGA §51-1-40, does not apply to convenience stores or vendors where the alcohol will not be served on the premises. Flores v. Exprezit A10A0703 (2010).
he law for years has been understood to protect Georgia drivers from bars and restaurants that willfully over-served obviously drunk patrons. It provides that if you provide alcohol to a noticeably intoxicated person when you should know that they will soon be driving, you share in the responsibility (liability) if they crash and kill or hurt someone. The law makes sense because in the restaurant and bar industry, alcohol is a profit engine and the more eyes watching to make sure that drunks don’t hit the road the better. If there is no downside to over-serving a customer, then the bar will be more inclined to serve them to excess. It is in their financial interest to do so. The Dramshop law provides a financial disincentive in that over-serving a customer can have dire financial consequences.
Consider this quote from www.startarestaurantbiz.com: “As alcohol doesn’t require the preparation and handling that food does it offers restaurant owners a much better profit margin. Restaurants that buy a bottle of wine for $10 can decant it by the glass, charge $7 per serving and make a 66% profit! Beer is also quite profitable and can allow a restaurant to mark up a bottle by up to 300%”
So the law was passed and when people are hurt or killed by drunk drivers who were over-served at bars and restaurants, there is shared responsibility with the drunk driver. And no, the dumb drunk cannot sue the bar if they get hurt themselves after being over-served.
Now the Court of Appeals comes along in a case where a 24 year old goes into a convenience store, visibly intoxicated and buys a 12 pack of beer. The clerk knows he drove up and knows he is driving away. Four hours later, the drunk crosses the center line and kills himself and 5 other innocent people, including children.
The families of the dead brought suit against the convenience store alleging that the store was liable to the family under the dramshop act for putting beer into the hands of a visibly drunk guy who was about to drive away.
Our esteemed Court posited “Even if Exprezit knew he would leave the store with the packaged beer and drive away in a motor vehicle, Exprezit did not know if Grundell would drink the beerm how much he might drink, when he might do so, or whether he would drive soon after drinking. Nothing inthe GDSA required Exprezit to investigate these matters, or to presume the worst, before selling the packaged beer to Grundell.”
Let me get this straight, the guy looks drunk and walks out the door to his car with the 12 pack you just sold him. So right off the bat, the store clerk knows the guy has no problem drinking and driving and that he is actually drinking that night. Now you give him a 12 pack. It is hardly presuming the worst to know that the fool is going to drink it and drive.
Putting it simply, the clerk has a financial incentive to sell as much beer as possible to increase store profits. The Court of Appeals just took away the only financial punishment for doing so. What do you think the result will be? Society loses again.
Understand, I am as concerned as the next person that our society can be overlawyered but when it comes to selling booze to visibly drunk people who are about to get into a car, I say fie on the store and you should be liable if the driver kills someone’s child.
If the Court had any doubt about what the legislature wanted, just look to Riley v. H & H Operations, Inc. 263 Ga 652 (1993) where the convenience store was liable for injuries caused when the sold booze to a minor who drove drunk. If the prohibition on a convenience store selling beers to minors includes punishment when they hurt someone while drunk on your booze, then why should the rest of the same statute not apply to store selling booze to adults?
I strongly disagree with this poorly thought out decision and hope our Supreme Court reverses this soon. It makes Georgia roads less safe.
Practice Note: Good News, this decision was reversed by the Georgia Supreme Court.