Georgia Dram Shop Laws and Social Host Liability for Alcohol-Related Accidents

When an intoxicated person injures someone else in Georgia, can a third party be liable for providing the alcohol?

When alcohol plays a role in causing an accident or injury, the laws of some states allow the injured person to seek compensation not just from the person who was intoxicated, but also from the third-party vendor who provided the alcohol. These laws are known as "dram shop" laws. (The name "dram shop" comes from a unit of measure called a “dram” that was used in the past for alcohol.)

Some states also have laws that allow social hosts to be held civilly liable for providing alcohol to someone who goes on to cause an accident.

In this article, we'll look at Georgia’s third-party liability laws for alcohol-related accidents.

Georgia's Dram Shop Law

Georgia Code section 51-1-40 allows an injured person to hold a seller of alcohol (such as a bar, restaurant, or liquor store) liable if the establishment:

  • "willfully, knowingly, and unlawfully" serves alcohol to a person who’s younger than age 21 or "knowingly" serves alcohol to a person who’s in a “state of noticeable intoxication” and,
  • knows that the minor or intoxicated person will soon be driving a motor vehicle.

Here's an example of Georgia's dram shop law in action. Suppose that on his way home from work, Dave stops at Tina's Tavern for a few drinks. Tina, the bartender, continues to serve Dave alcohol even after Dave has begun stumbling around, slurring his speech, and getting unusually and unreasonably angry at the people near him. Finally, Dave pulls his car keys out of his pocket, pushes his glass across the bar to Tina, and says "One more for the road." Tina serves him, and after finishing the drink, Dave stands up and heads out the door. While driving home, Dave hits and injures Paul, a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

In this situation, Paul can bring a dram shop claim against Tina's Tavern because the tavern continued to serve Dave knowing he was intoxicated and would soon be driving. Paul can also seek damages from Dave for causing the accident. If Dave had not been intoxicated but had been under age 21, Paul would also have a claim against Tina's Tavern for serving someone who’s underage.

"Social Host" Liability in Georgia

The same statute that holds vendors liable if they serve alcohol to minors or to noticeably intoxicated adults also allows injured plaintiffs to sue social hosts for injuries in civil court. The requirements for bringing a claim against a social host are the same as those listed above that apply to alcohol vendors.

Here's an example. Suppose that instead of going to the tavern after work, Dave stops by the home of Holly, a coworker who is throwing a barbecue. Dave has several drinks at the barbecue and becomes noticeably intoxicated, but Holly keeps serving him alcohol, even after Dave announces he’s planning to drive home soon. Eventually, Dave gets back in his car and ends up hitting Paul in a crosswalk. Like the example above in which Dave went to the tavern, Paul likely has a claim against both Dave and Holly—against Dave because he directly caused the injuries and against Holly because she provided Dave with alcohol knowing he was intoxicated and about to drive home.

Damages and Lawsuit Filing Deadlines in Georgia

In civil claims, like the ones we've been discussing here, liability is expressed solely in terms of damages—meaning monetary compensation for the injured person’s losses. Common types of injury damages include medical bills, damaged property, lost wages and benefits, and non-economic harm like pain and suffering.

These kinds of civil cases must also be filed within the time limits set by Georgia's statute of limitations. Generally, the statute of limitation for these types of claims is two years. But every situation is different, so it’s important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible after being injured.

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