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Drunk man with car key and alcoholic beverage in bar

Hit by a Drunk Driver? Why the Bar May Be Responsible

the Law Firm of Walter Gabriel, LLC July 27, 2023

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), every day, 37 people in the United States die from an alcohol-related driving accident, in other words, one person about every 39 minutes. 

In 2021, there were 13,384 deaths nationwide from drunk-driving incidents. The standard in all states except Utah is that a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent is considered to be driving under the influence (Utah is 0.05), but in the NHTSA’s 2021 study, 2,266 people perished at the hands of drivers with a BAC of 0.01 to 0.07. 

Every person reacts to alcohol consumption a bit differently, but at 0.08 percent BAC, most people start to lose balance, judgment, detection of danger, and self-control, which results in considerable effects on their driving ability, including reduced information-processing capability, signal detection, visual search, and impaired overall perception. The result can be deadly. 

As the NHTSA points out, 31 percent of fatal crashes in the U.S. involve drivers with a high BAC. But what if you are injured in an accident with a drunken driver?  

You can obviously make an insurance claim and/or file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver. However, can you also take legal action against the party—restaurant, bar, or even a social host—who served the driver too many drinks? 

Under social host and dram shop laws in Georgia, you as the victim of a drunken driver can indeed pursue legal action against the person or establishment that served the alcohol to the at-fault party. There are conditions, of course, in pursuing your legal action, but the laws exist to allow you to proceed on two fronts—the driver’s liability and the social host or establishment’s liability. 

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a drunken driver in or around Atlanta, Georgia—or in nearby areas such as Dunwoody or Alexandria—contact us at The Law Firm of Walter Gabriel, LLC. We will listen to the details of what happened and help you investigate how the alcohol was obtained so that we can pursue all legal options available to you to obtain the just compensation owed to you. 

Dram Shop and Social Host Laws in Georgia

Dram is a word used to describe a measure of alcohol served, and dram shops are establishments that serve or sell alcoholic beverages to patrons. Social hosts are individuals who may be throwing parties or celebrations and serve alcohol as part of the festivities. Both can be liable under Georgia law for the actions of their patrons or guests after leaving their establishments or events.

The Georgia General Assembly established the state’s Dram Shop Act in 1988 following the 1985 State Supreme Court decision in Sutter v. Hutchings. The law applies equally to dram shop suppliers—bars, taverns, restaurants, liquor stores—and to individuals who are social hosts. 

In general, the law holds that 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.” 

However, there are two noticeable exceptions carved out in the law: 

  • “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,” and 

  • an establishment or 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” 

In all, 43 states have dram shop laws, but Georgia is unique in that it combines both dram shop liability with social host liability, equating the standards for both, as detailed above.  

Notice that the Georgia requirement for liability—or proof in a legal action—is that the server of the alcohol, whether an establishment or an individual, knew that the consumer was either underage or “in a state of noticeable intoxication.” The server also must have known that the consumer of the alcohol would “soon be driving a motor vehicle.”  

These two contingencies can be hard to prove in a court of law, especially as the judgments of the servers and their observations of the condition of the consumer who went on to cause injuries—or death—can fade over time, and witnesses may be hard if not impossible to find. If the consumer who went on to cause injuries or property damage was under 21, however, then the case might be easier to carry forward. In either situation, however, you must prove that the server or supplier knew the person was going to be driving. 

Recoverable Damages

If you do file a lawsuit under the Dram Shop Act, you typically can seek damages (compensation) for medical expenses, property damage, current and future wages lost due to time missed from work, and for pain and suffering, much like a personal injury lawsuit. Punitive damages may also be possible in some situations. 

If you lost a loved one in an alcohol-related accident and can implicate the social host or dram shop, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit. With a wrongful death lawsuit, you can recover for the loss of the life of the loved one, loss of services, loss of consortium (companionship), and for medical, funeral, and other expenses. 

Generally, the statute of limitations for these types of lawsuits is two years, but check with us. The earlier you file, the better it is to compile the evidence and develop a solid case under the Dram Shop Act. 

Pursue All Legal Avenues After a Drunken-Driving Accident

Of course, if you’ve been injured in an accident with a drunken driver—or lost a loved one—your first course is to pursue a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance, but you don’t need to limit your actions to the insurer. Insurance policies have caps. Lawsuits can expand the range of recoverable damages, including lawsuits against those who served or supplied the alcohol.

For any alcohol-related injury or fatality in or around Atlanta, contact the legal team at The Law Firm of Walter Gabriel, LLC. Let us review everything with you and propose the best course of action for you.  

We can negotiate with the insurance company and launch lawsuits as necessary. Reach out immediately after you’ve been injured or lost a loved one. Let us work on the just compensation owed to you while you recover or grieve your loss.