Fatal accident is a case study in dram shop liability

"Dram shop" laws in Georgia and elsewhere in the United States pertain to the legal duty of the owner of an establishment that serves alcohol to stop serving liquor to a customer who shows signs of intoxication, with the purpose of reducing incidents of people drinking and driving. In the majority of these cases, if a person who is injured in a drunk driving-related accident sues such an establishment, the management and the intoxicated customer will be different people. But a recent incident in Atlanta shows that this distinction is not always the case.

The family of a motorcyclist who died when he was involved in an accident with an allegedly drunk driver is suing multiple defendants, beginning with the manager of the restaurant where the alleged drunk driver -- who also happened to be the manager himself -- as well as the company that owns the restaurant chain and that company's parent company. The plaintiffs' wrongful death cause of action is based on dram shop liability in the unusual circumstance that the person responsible for cutting off customers who drink too much failed to cut himself off. The complaint alleges that the employees of the restaurant served the manager alcohol even when it was apparent that he was intoxicated, and then allowed him to leave the restaurant in his car.

The restaurant manager has also been charged with drunk driving and vehicular homicide in connection with the accident.

Aside from the peculiar situation presented in the dram shop liability context, this case also raises issues in connection with suing defendants located in different states (the restaurant parent companies) with the related possibility of having the lawsuit transferred to federal court, and the possible use of statutory violations as prima facie evidence of negligence.

Sometimes what appears to be an "ordinary" personal injury or wrongful death matter can become more complex based on peculiar facts. A law firm that is experienced with such cases can help to sort out the legal issues that develop from such unusual circumstances so that all possible defendants and causes of action can be identified.

Source: Reuters, "Georgia family sues Gordon Biersch restaurant chain over DUI," Rich McKay, August 27, 2015

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