Posted by H. Lee Pruett
Hard cases make bad law, as the saying goes. The Georgia Court of Appeals recently resisted that outcome, however, in a dram shop case where an intoxicated guest left the defendant’s home, ran a red light and struck another car, killing a mother and injuring her minor son. In Shin v. Estate of Camacho, Case No. A10A0244 (Ga. Ct. App., January 21, 2010), the Court held that, because the plaintiff had failed to show the defendant host served alcohol to the guest after he became noticeably intoxicated, the host was not liable for the subsequent actions of the guest.
Reversing the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the Court considered the following facts: the defendant hosted a party with a number of adults and children. One of the guests, Seung Park, drove to the defendant’s house. During dinner, Park drank two beers and three to five servings of sake. He and another guest got into an argument that escalated into a fight. The host realized Park was intoxicated because he was cursing in front of the children and was red in the face. The party ended early when most of the other guests left, and the defendant put away the alcohol. The defendant urged Park to lie down and sober up before driving home. Park testified that he drank two more drinks after the fight, but neither the host nor his wife saw it, and Park could not say who poured the drinks. He did lie down for about 45 minutes, then got up to join the children outside with fireworks before he got into his car to drive home. The host’s wife again attempted to have him stay, but Park told the host he was fine. The fatal accident occurred within fifteen minutes of his leaving.
Strictly construing Georgia’s Dram Shop Act, O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40, the Court held that there was an absence of evidence to support the first element of the plaintiff’s case: that the defendant had served alcohol to the guest when he was in an intoxicated state. The Court noted that the Act first provides a general immunity of liability for the person who sells or furnishes alcohol to someone who in turn causes injury to another because of his intoxication. The limited exception is when the person “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.” O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40(b). In this case, the defendant knew Park would be driving a vehicle, and Park had two more drinks after he was noticeably intoxicated, but it was undisputed that neither the host nor his wife provided the drinks or saw him drink them. Thus, although the host had provided alcohol to Park to the point he was noticeably intoxicated, the host did not serve him after that. The host, therefore, could not be liable to the unfortunate third person injured by the drunk driver.