Under the common law, a purveyor of alcohol could not be found negligent for furnishing liquor to an intoxicated person who caused injury to another. With respect to injuries caused by the intoxicated person, the intoxicated person would be held liable, but the person who furnished the liquor to the would-be or already intoxicated person was not subject to negligence liability because there was insufficient “proximate cause” between furnishing the alcohol and the injuries the intoxicated person caused. Delta Airlines, Inc. v. Townsend, 279 Ga. 511, 511-512 (1) (614 SE2d 745) (2005). Although this was a well-established rule, the legislatures of many states realized that freely providing booze to another could foreseeably lead to the injuries, especially if one considers the relative ubiquity of intoxicated driving. Consequently, states including Georgia passed Dram Shop legislation that abrogated the common law and imposed liability on those who sell liquor under certain circumstances. The scope of Georgia’s Dram Shop Law was recently addressed in a case from the Supreme Court of Georgia, Dion v. Ysg Enterprises, Inc..
Dion arose from a motor vehicle accident in the early hours of September 16, 2011. On that evening, the husband of the plaintiff in this action died in a single-car wreck. The decedent had been drinking at Depot Sports Bar and Grill for approximately eight hours, and his blood alcohol level was measured at .282. While he was at the bar, the decedent was visibly intoxicated. In fact, an employee had asked for the decedent’s keys, which the decedent refused to relinquish. Following the death, the decedent’s widow brought a wrongful death action against Depot Sports Bar and Grill, arguing that the actions of the bar’s employees were negligent and that their conduct was the proximate cause of the decedent’s accident and death. The defendant moved to dismiss, arguing that Georgia Dram Shop Law barred the widow’s claim. The trial court concurred and granted the motion, but the widow appealed.