The Georgia Supreme Court has overturned a lower court ruling in a 6-1 decision, stating that a Clinch County convenience store can be held liable for a fatal highway accident after selling a 12-pack of beer to the driver who caused the crash. The trial court and Georgia Court of Appeals previously awarded summary judgment to the store on grounds that the beer was not sold for consumption on premises and that a store could not determine a customer’s means of transportation or level of intoxication, but the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed. This signifies an important extension of Georgia’s dram shop law, which holds bar and restaurant owners liable if they sell alcohol to a knowingly intoxicated customer.
The crash occurred on January 3, 2004 in Clinch County when 24-year-old Billy Grundell crossed the center line on U.S. 84 and hit a van head-on, killing himself and five other people while injuring multiple others. Four hours earlier he had purchased a 12-back of beer from Exprezit! Stores 98-Georgia, which he and another customer consumed before the crash. Court documents state that Grundell was noticeably intoxicated when he entered the store, and his blood alcohol level was measured at twice the legal limit at the time of the crash.
The Georgia dram shop act provides that a seller of alcohol may be held liable for injuries caused by a customer to third parties if the supplier “knowingly sells, furnishes or serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is in a noticeable state of intoxication, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle.” The lawsuit stressed that because this 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 restaurants, taverns and bars. The lower court had refused to apply this concept to these types of sales because it “would lead to wholly impracticable results.”
Exprezit! and other convenience stores had argued that it was impossible for convenience stores to know whether their customers had been drinking or whether they would soon be driving, but the Supreme Court disagreed. The Supreme Court agreed with the lawsuit that a convenience store is sometimes able to observe a customer’s means of transportation and whether the individual is intoxicated. Therefore, they deemed this type of lawsuit should be allowed and the facts of the case should be left up to a jury. If a plaintiff could not demonstrate that the store knowingly sold alcohol to a customer who was intoxicated and would soon be driving, the store would not be found liable.
This Georgia Supreme Court ruling could spark a number of new lawsuits, with the dram shop law greatly expanded to include convenience stores as well as bars, taverns and restaurants. If you or a family member has been injured in a drunk driving accident, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
Contact an experienced Atlanta DUI accident lawyer by completing the form on the right to see if you are entitled to monetary damages for your accident. Contact us today for a free, no-risk case evaluation. Our attorneys can handle any auto accident claims, including those caused by issues like drowsy driving.