BE CAREFUL PARTYING NEW YEAR’S EVE

As people around town are preparing for New Year’s Eve celebrations, I thought it appropriate to discuss what Georgia Law has to say about liability for serving alcoholic beverages. Many people talk about the criminal repercussions for drinking and driving; however, civil liability is another very real consequence of intoxication. In this article, I will provide a very brief overview of what is commonly referred to as Georgia’s “Dram Shop Act.”

Georgia’s Dram Shop Act is codified at O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40. That code section provides that a person who sells, furnishes or serves alcoholic beverages to a person of legal drinking age shall not become liable for injury, death or damage caused by the intoxicated person except under certain circumstances. The statute goes on to explain that if a person knowingly and unlawfully sell, furnishes or serves alcoholic beverages to someone who is not legal drinking age, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle, the person providing the alcohol may become liable for injuries or damages caused by the intoxicated individual. Furthermore, per this law, if a person provides alcohol to someone who is in a “state of noticeable intoxication”, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle, then the provider of said alcohol may become liable for injuries or damages caused by the intoxicated individual. This statute also limits liability to damages that are proximately caused by the furnishing of alcohol.

I want to point out several key elements in this law that people should keep in mind over the holiday. First, the statute applies to only people who sell, furnish or serve alcohol to people. Therefore, if someone has a party at their home but the homeowner does not provide the alcohol, then, recover under this statute may be difficult. Second, this statute only applies to providing alcohol to two types of individuals: 1) those who are underage and 2) those who are noticeably intoxicated. Finally, this statute requires that the person providing alcohol have knowledge that the person consuming the alcohol will soon be driving a motor vehicle. So, if there is no indicators that the person drinking will be driving, then it may be difficult to recover under this statute.

As I previously stated, this is a very brief overview of the Dram Shop Act in Georgia. Drinking is an activity that requires a great deal of responsibility on the part of both the person drinking and the person providing the alcohol. Please be very careful as you ring in the new year!!

Jeffrey E. Johnston is a local attorney licensed to practice in Georgia. His practice focuses primarily on Criminal Defense and Personal Injury law. His law firm can be reached at (706) 869-8171.