Last month, the Georgia Supreme Court issued an opinion of interest to all Georgians who want safer highways. In my work as a Gwinnett County personal injury lawyer and having represented many injured victims of Georgia drunk drivers, the opinion in Flores v. Exprezit! Stores 98-Georgia, LLC, resolves an important Georgia legal issue.
In the Flores case, a noticeably drunk customer was sold alcoholic beverages, specifically a 12 pack of beer, at a convenience store. After the customer purchased the beer, he got back in his car and back on the road.
Several hours later he crossed the centerline of a highway and struck a van that was in the oncoming lane. Six people died in this accident and others were injured. The blood alcohol level of the drunk driver was twice the legal limit.
The injured passengers filed a lawsuit under what is referred to informally as “the dram shop act.” Many states have laws like Georgia’s law that traditionally impose liability on anyone who provides or sells alcohol to someone who is already intoxicated, when the intoxicated person does something that causes injuries to another person.
In this case, the convenience store owners and operators were named as defendants in the case. After both the trial court and the Court of Appeals determined that that the dram shop act was not applicable when alcohol is sold for consumption off premises, the Georgia Supreme Court decided to review the case and it reversed the lower courts.
The court found that Georgia’s dram shop act does apply to situations in which a visibly drunk customer is sold alcohol even when that alcohol will not be consumed on the premises of the store. That is because the court said that it is reasonably foreseeable to assume that the already intoxicated customer will in fact drink, and then drive.
A plaintiff bringing a lawsuit against a store, must prove that a particular customer is noticeably drunk. That will likely be difficult in some cases, but it is a warning to convenience stores that they must be careful about their sale to anyone that might be drunk already.
The Supreme Court said that it disagreed with the lower courts’ interpretation of the statute saying it would mean that a convenience store would not be “held liable for selling closed or packaged alcoholic beverages to a noticeably intoxicated adult under any set of circumstances.”
Courts are tasked with construing statutes, and when they do they must try to determine the purpose and intent of the legislature and then try to construe the law to implement that intent. In this case, the court said that the statute was plain and susceptible of one natural and reasonable construction and due to that it did not have the authority to alter its construction.
For many years, I have been involved in trying to stop the tragedy of drinking and driving. As a supporter of Georgia’s Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, I hope for the elimination of this deadly activity. As an Atlanta, Georgia dram shop attorney, I know that when victims are injured or are killed due to a drunk driver, it is important that they recover from their injuries and in that way, I hope to help families heal from these tragedies.
If you have been injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, please contact The Law Offices of P. Charles Scholle, for a free consultation. With offices in Duluth and throughout the Atlanta area, we are able to support victims in pursuing their legal rights and recover from their injuries.