When drunk bought 12 pack, then killed 6, convenience store accountable under Georgia dram shop law

The Georgia Supreme Court issued a landmark decision today, in FLORES et al. v. EXPREZIT! STORES, holding that a convenience store that sold a 12 pack of beer to a visibly intoxicated customer could be accountable for the injuries and deaths that resulted.

The Georgia dram shop statute, OCGA § 51-1-40, provides:

(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 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, or 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.

The Georgia Court of Appeals had held  the dram shop act does not apply under any circumstances to the sale of closed or packaged alcoholic beverages not intended for consumption on the premises.

However, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that

“because statute uses the terms ‘sells, furnishes, or serves’ alcohol in the disjunctive, it is clear that it was intended to encompass the sale of an alcoholic beverage at places other than the proverbial dram shop. . . . We find [the] statutory requirements to be straightforward and under the plain language of the statute are equally applicable to convenience stores and traditional dram shops.”

We are currently working on a wrongful death case that is likely to involve the dram shop statute. While it involves a disreputable night club rather than a relatively respectable convenience store, the holding in this case may serve to strengthen dram shop cases generally.

 

 

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