Will Georgia’s dram shop law let me sue a bar or restaurant after a DUI accident?

Get the specifics on a business’s potential liability for an alcohol-related accident in Georgia.

First, let's explain what a "dram shop" law is. These are state laws that can be used to hold a business liable for providing alcohol to someone whose intoxication goes on to play a role in causing some kind of accident (such as a drunk driving accident). Not every state has a dram shop law on the books, and even in the states that have passed them, these laws can vary widely when it comes to the details of an alcohol vendor's potential liability.

Georgia's dram shop law can be found at Georgia Code Annotated section 51-1-40. The first part of the statute actually explicitly states that the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and not the sale or serving of these beverages, is the proximate cause of alcohol-related accidents.

But the law then goes on to declare when a person or a business (including a restaurant, a bar, a liquor store, or some other establishment) can be held liable for damages when an intoxicated customer goes on to cause an accident. This kind of liability is possible in situations where:

  • a person or business willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully sells or serves alcohol to a person who is under the legal drinking age (which is 21 in Georgia), knowing that the person will soon be driving a vehicle, or where
  • a person or business 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.

Example of Liability Under Georgia's Dram Shop Law

How does this law work in the real world? Let's say Peter stops at Darla's Liquor Store to buy a six-pack of beer. Darla watches Peter pull into the parking lot and narrowly avoid clipping a parked car. Peter is slurring his words and reeks of alcohol when he comes to the counter. Darla even has to help him find the correct bills in his wallet so that he can pay, but she completes the sale anyway and watches Peter get back into his car.

Peter actually drinks one of the beers right in the parking lot. A few minutes later he runs a red light and collides with Victor's car. Police come to the scene and administer a Breathalyzer to Peter, who blows a .16, meaning he was clearly driving under the influence of alcohol under Georgia law. Both Victor and Peter have sustained serious injuries.

Victor can definitely file a lawsuit against Peter for causing the car accident. (Learn more: DUI and Fault for a Car Accident.) But can he also sue Darla's Liquor Store? Probably. Since Darla watched Peter pull up to the store in a car, observed that he was intoxicated, but sold him the beer anyway, that probably qualifies as knowingly selling alcohol to someone who is in a "state of noticeable intoxication, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle" under section 51-1-40.

No Dram Shop Claim by an Intoxicated Customer in Georgia

It's important to point out that even though Peter was injured in the accident, he can't rely on Georgia's dram shop law to file a civil lawsuit against Darla or the store. That's because section 51-1-40 specifically prohibits this kind of claim: "Nothing contained in this Code section shall authorize the consumer of any alcoholic beverage to recover from the provider of such alcoholic beverage for injuries or damages suffered by the consumer."

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