Some of you may have heard about Kambiz Michael Doran, the man in Spring Texas who is facing criminal prosecution for the death of several drivers at the hands of a drunk driver as a result of buying her drinks while hitting on her. Is criminal and civil liability for buying a lady drinks what we want as a society?
This is a modern day illustration of the law of foreseeability. In law school, lawyers are taught about the case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad. In that case a railroad employee pushes a man, causing him to drop a generic package. Unfortunately the package happens to contain fireworks, which explode and cause a part of the station to fall and hit the victim. The victim wants to sue the railway for their employees negligence. Although the law in Georgia is a heavily modified version of this concept, it is the underpinning of the idea of foreseeability. We generally agree that living in a world where the chaos theory of liability exists (ie suing the butterfly for causing Hurricane Katrina) is not a sound basis for a legal system. Somewhere along the list of factors that lead to tragedy, civil and criminal legal liability have to end. The question is where?
I have written on this blog previously about Georgia’s Dram Shop law which is a statute specifically enacted by the legislature to make a party civilly liable for serving visibly intoxicated people whom they have reason to know will soon be driving. It commonly is applied to bars and restaurants but can also apply to homeowners and stores.
Georgia does not have a law allowing prosecutors to go after bars for over serving drunk drivers who kill although if you look at what the prosecutors in the Duran case are doing, they are charging the patron that bought her drinks as a party to the crime. Logically, prosecutors in Georgia ought to be able to do the same thing. A criminal defense lawyer in Georgia would likely point to the Georgia Dram Shop Statute itself though which says:
” (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 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” O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40
This should provide a sound argument that without proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the drunk driver advised the guy hitting on her that she would be driving, a verdict of “innocent” is guaranteed.
The underlying problem here is this; the Dram Shop law was put in place to provide a legal check on bars and stores serving drunk people. That’s it. These establishments make a profit off of alcohol sales, but there is a civil duty to make the sale responsibly. The law is not designed to provide a morality check on men and women hitting on each other in bars. To extend the duty that far would be stretching the sheet farther than intended.
I hope the Texas courts have the wisdom to see this for the publicity grab it is. The bar? Prosecute away because the customer was clearly stumbling drunk in the video.