Understanding Georgia’s Social Host Liability Laws – Georgia’s Dram Shop Laws

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Key Points:

  • When alcohol consumption causes a car accident, Georgia law may, in some cases, allow the victim to recover damages from not just the driver but  a person or company who provided the alcohol.
  • Social host liability laws apply to business vendors (e.g., bars, taverns, nightclubs, concert venues, restaurants, liquor stores, convenience stores, and grocery stores) as well as private homeowners serving alcohol.
  • Georgia’s social host liability laws are also known as the “Dram Shop Act.”
  • To prevail on a social host liability claim, you must prove that the host knowingly served alcohol to a minor or a noticeably intoxicated person and knew that person was likely to drive soon.
  • If an at-fault driver injured you in a DUI accident, you can seek punitive damages from both the driver and the business or person who served them alcohol.

Whether you’re a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you face the risk of serious injury or even death from drunk drivers. In Georgia, you not only have a legal claim against drunk drivers who cause an accident but, sometimes, against the person or company who served or sold them alcohol.

When certain conditions are met, these “social hosts” can be held accountable under state statutes designed to encourage safe and responsible drinking through the imposition of civil liability.  Georgia’s social host alcohol laws are commonly known as Dram Shop Laws.

Serving Alcohol Can Result in a Social Host Liability Claim

When alcohol consumption results in a car accident, in certain cases Georgia law allows the victim to recover compensation from not just the driver but the third party who provided the alcohol. Under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40, known as the Georgia Dram Shop Act, when someone “willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages” to a person who is under 21 or who “is in a state of noticeable intoxication” knowing that person will soon be driving a vehicle, the server can be held liable for injuries or damages.

Georgia’s dram shop law is broad because it can apply not only to business establishments such as bars, restaurants, and retail stores but other social hosts, including private individuals having a party or serving guests at home. The social host liability provisions outlined in O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40 are strictly focused on injuries caused by the drunk driver and do not authorize compensation recovery for injuries suffered by the person who consumed alcohol.

Why States, Including Georgia, Have Social Host Liability Laws

People who are intoxicated are not always fully aware they’re about to drive drunk, yet drunk driving poses a substantial risk of severe injury or death to others on the road. Most states, including Georgia, enacted social host liability laws to help reduce the alarming number of DUI accidents that occur each year.

Holding other parties liable for DUI accidents provides an incentive for people to make responsible decisions about serving alcohol that improve our public health and safety. In short, social host liability laws can and do save lives.

Who Can Be Held Liable in a Social Host Liability Claim

Social host liability laws apply to business vendors (e.g., bars, taverns, nightclubs, concert venues, restaurants, liquor stores, convenience stores, and grocery stores) as well as private homeowners serving alcohol. Even if they weren’t home, parents can be held liable if their child hosted a party where individuals were consuming alcohol under certain circumstances.

For example, if the parents didn’t know about the party or the fact that individuals were served alcohol at their home, they may avoid liability if a guest later causes a drunk driving accident. But if the parents did know their child was having someone over to drink—it doesn’t need to involve a party or even multiple guests—who would be driving afterward, they can be held liable under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40.

What Must Be Proven in a Social Host Liability Claim

If you want to recover compensation for a liability claim against a social host under O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40, you must prove two elements:

  • the host knowingly provided alcohol to a minor or knowingly served alcohol to someone in a “state of noticeable intoxication,” and
  • the host knew the intoxicated person or minor being served was likely to drive soon.

Courts have interpreted “knowingly” or “knew” differently from case to case, but have generally found this to mean that the host should have known while exercising reasonable care or inquiry. Courts have also interpreted “soon” on a sliding scale as well.  In one case, the court found that a minor who bought alcohol from a convenience store drove soon when he caused a wreck four-and-a-half hours later.

What Evidence Can Help Prove a Georgia Dram Shop Case?

To prevail on a social host liability claim, you or your lawyer must gather evidence proving each element. Witness testimony is often useful to establish whether the driver was already intoxicated when the host served them more alcohol. For example, witnesses at a party may have noticed the driver slurring, stumbling around, or being unusually loud and erratic.

Video footage or social media posts can also help show that the person appeared drunk prior to driving. At events such as barbeques, weddings, or office parties, there are typically social media posts from many people, which can give lawyers an advantage when looking for evidence and witnesses to prove social host liability.

Police patrol car and body cam footage may also provide helpful information, as drunk drivers sometimes say on-camera, where they had been drinking and how much.  Other useful evidence can come from expert toxicologists, who may be able to testify whether based on a person’s level of intoxication, a normal person would have looked drunk or impaired.

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Will the Drunk Driver’s Auto Insurance Company Still Have to Pay Up?

The fact that a social host or business vendor was negligent in serving alcohol does not mean the drunk driver’s insurance company is let off the hook for payment. If you were injured by a drunk driver, you likely have a claim against the at-fault driver’s auto insurance carrier. If you can prove liability and damages, the carrier must fully compensate you for your costs up to the driver’s policy limit.

Damages and Compensation in a DUI Injury Social Host Claim

In car accident claims, injury victims are entitled to recover compensatory damages, including economic costs, such as medical expenses and vehicle repairs, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering and quality of life changes. If your accident was caused by a drunk driver, Georgia law also allows you to recover punitive damages..

Punitive damages are awarded to victims to punish and deter “willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of conscious indifference to consequences.” O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1. If an at-fault driver injured you in a DUI accident, you can seek punitive damages from both the driver and the business or person who served them alcohol.

Punitive damages can give you a much higher payout than you would otherwise receive based on the injuries alone.  This is because in Georgia punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages, in order to punish and deter the drunk driver or alcohol provider from future misconduct.  Georgia’s $250,000.00 cap on punitive damages has been found not to apply to drunk drivers, under most circumstances.

What Social Hosts Can Do to Prevent a Liability Claim

To avoid potential liability claims and encourage safe and responsible behavior, business establishments and social hosts can take steps to prevent their guests from causing drunk driving accidents.

One solution is to simply not serve alcohol. If you’re hosting an event where you want to serve alcohol, however, you can hire an outside company with appropriate licensing to take responsibility. Providing free rides and housing for events can discourage guests from driving drunk and also help hosts defend against a liability claim because they could argue they had no reason to expect that the individual being served was likely to get behind the wheel anytime soon.

Consultations Are Free at The Millar Law Firm

If you have been injured by a drunk driver and want to learn more about your options for recovering compensation, you should speak to an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

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