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Too Much of a Good Thing: Liquor Liability & the Intoxicated Customer

And the Award Goes to...The Plaintiff
 
In Connecticut, a court recently awarded $150,000 to the family of a 20-year old passenger who died in a one-car accident. The defendant, Dee-Man's Bar & Grill, sold alcohol to John Carlson when he was already drunk. Carlson drank seven to nine drinks and drove over 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, smashing his Camaro into a tree in 2006. The passenger was ejected from the burning vehicle and killed. The driver also died, and had a 0.13 blood alcohol content at autopsy. The bartender testified that Carlson drank four or five beers and four shots of Southern Comfort within 1-1/2 hours, and two hours later left with the passenger. 
 
The court awarded $150,000 to the passenger's family under the Dram Shop Act, citing that the driver caused the passenger's death only because Dee-Man's bartender served the driver alcohol while he was intoxicated.
 
Dram Shop Laws
 
A dram shop is any business that sells alcohol. Many states have dram shop laws that hold alcohol providers legally responsible for alcohol-related accidents. In general, it is illegal for bartenders to serve alcohol to customers under the age of 21, or to continue serving alcohol to a person who is visibly intoxicated. The bartender's employer can be held responsible if the law is broken and the drunken customer hurts himself or another person. Massachusetts takes the law a step further and holds the alcohol provider responsible if the inebriated customer uses vulgar and/or offensive behavior. 
 
There is considerable debate about the effectiveness of dram shop laws in curbing drunk driving.
 
What's a Bartender to Do?
 
Twenty-two states, including California, Nevada, and Virginia, do not mandate alcohol server and bartender responsibility training (though some cities or counties have mandates). All other states have directives enforcing alcohol server training or offer a Responsible Vendor Program. TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) gives servers the knowledge necessary to recognize potential alcohol-related problems. The educational program is offered online or via video. Upon completion of the TIPS program and passing of an exam, participants are granted a certification card, which is valid for three years in most areas.
 
TIPS training has been proven effective in reducing liability claims and examples of its success can be viewed at www.gettips.com.

By Rita Henry
Get Bartending Jobs, Contributing Editor

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