This past Wednesday, May 1, 2013, a grand jury indicted Michael Owen Snider, a Stone Mountain man who caused 15 different hit-and-run accidents back on January 23, 2012. Snider’s son has made some strong accusations about the Stone Mountain bar where Snider was drinking right before the disastrous series of wrecks also should be following the case. I am a car accident lawyer who handles cases in which DUI drivers cause injuries to other drivers and passengers, and today I am going to talk about the George law on liability of bars that serve too much alcohol.
The Gwinnett Daily Post is reporting that Snider’s son told police that his father had been returning home from a bar in DeKalb County. According to the son, the bar had sold too much alcohol to his dad on numerous occasions. The son had complained, but the bar had ignored the son’s attempts to get the bar to stop over-serving his father.
The situation brings up an important question under Georgia law. Could a bar be potentially liable for furnishing too much alcohol? The answer is yes, under O.C.G.A. Â§ 51-1-40. The statute applies to any store or person that sells or serves alcohol — for example, package stores, liquor stores, grocery stores, restaurants and bars. The statute is called a “dram shop law”, “dram shop” being the old-fashioned term for a store that sells or serves alcohol.
The General Rule
O.C.G.A. Â§ 51-1-40 says that, in general, the bar or restaurant that served or sold the alcohol is not liable for the injuries that an intoxicated person causes; the drunk person is liable for his own actions. Under the statute, a person “who sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person of lawful drinking age shall not thereby become liable for injury, death, or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such person, including injury or death to other persons.” The “proximate cause” of the injuries is the fact that the intoxicated person drank the alcohol, not that someone provided the alcohol to the person who then injured or killed a third party.
However, the statute makes two important exceptions, in the case of any person, store, restaurant or bar that:
(1) “willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is not of lawful drinking age, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle”; or,
(2) “knowingly sells, furnishes, or serves alcoholic beverages to a person who is in a state of noticeable intoxication, knowing that such person will soon be driving a motor vehicle.”
If either of these two exceptions applies, then the person, or bar or restaurant that provided the alcohol “may become liable for injury or damage caused by or resulting from the intoxication of such minor or person” if the “sale, furnishing, or serving is the proximate cause of such injury or damage.”
In other words, if a restaurant serves alcohol to someone who is noticeably drunk, knowing that the person will soon be driving a car, then the restaurant can be liable to anyone who gets hurt as a result of the drunk driver. Likewise, if a package store, a grocery store, a bar or an individual “willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully” serves or sells alcohol to someone who is under the age of 21, knowing that the person will soon be driving, the bar or individual may be liable for what happens when the young person drives under the influence.
The son’s statements to the police raise very serious questions about what the Stone Mountain, DeKalb County, bar knew when it served Snider so much alcohol that he became drunk right before he drove home.
Snider caused five auto accidents in DeKalb County before he crossed over into Gwinnett County. In Gwinnett, he caused ten more car crashes at the intersections of Highway 78 and Bethany Church Rd., Hewatt Rd., Ross Rd., Paxton Lane, Killian Hill Rd., East Park Place, and Parkwood Rd. At three intersections — Ross Rd., Killian Hill Rd. and East Park Place — Snider somehow managed to cause two different accidents in each intersection. Snider stopped only when he crashed into a John Boy’s restaurant. Numerous drivers and passengers were hurt in the auto collisions, and two people were killed.
The grand jury returned indictments against Snider for, among other things, two counts of homicide by vehicle and one count of felony murder.