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Liquor Liability

The Mobile liquor liability attorneys at Tobias & Comer Law, LLC are experienced in handling cases where persons were injured by persons who were intoxicated as a result of the unlawful service of alcohol. Firm partner, Desi Tobias, has obtained a $2.8 million dollar verdict on behalf of a mother whose child was killed by a drunk driver.

It is important to contact a liquor liability attorney if you have been injured due to the negligence of another person engaged in risky driving due to the influence of alcohol. We are experienced with Alabama liquor liability laws and can assist you in navigating the legal landscape. Contact us for a free consultation of your case.

The Alabama Dram Shop Act

The Alabama legislature has enacted a statute known as the “Dram Shop Act” that governs liquor liability in the state. The Alabama Supreme Court requires proof of three elements in order to state a cause of action under § 6-5-71, the dram shop statute. Those elements are that the disposition or sale: (1) was contrary to the provision of law, (2) was the cause of the intoxication, and (3) the plaintiff’s injuries were in consequence of the intoxication. Attala Golf & Country Club v. Harris, 601 So.2d 965 (Ala. 1992). The statute permits both compensatory damages and punitive damages and generally allows claims against ABC Board licensees who serve alcohol contrary to law. There is generally no social host liability for service of alcohol in Alabama.

A. Potential Plaintiffs

Potential plaintiffs in a dram shop action include “every wife, child, parent, or other person” to be modified by the phrase “who shall be injured in person, property or by means of support.” In Ward v. Rhodes, Hammond & Beck d/b/a The Brass Monkey, 511 So.2d 159 (Ala. 1987), the court undertook a lengthy review of the interpretation of the language regarding proper party plaintiffs and decided that the phrase should be read disjunctively, so that the phrase “wife, child, parent” is independent of the injured person, property or by means of support and these categories are broadly interpreted. The Ward opinion was quoted at length in McIsaac v. Monte Carlo Club, Inc., 587 So.2d 320 (Ala. 1991). The McIsaac court stated:

A right of action under § 6-5-71 runs in favor of two classes of persons: “(1) The person injured in person or property, [and] (2) [the] wife, child, parent, or other person . . . who has been injured through loss of means of support because of personal injury to the person furnishing the means of support.” Ward, 511 So.2d at 161. The phrase “other person” constitutes a second class of claimants that encompasses “anyone who is proximately ‘injured in person, property or means of support by any intoxicated person or in consequence of the intoxication of any person.’ And . . . this category of plaintiffs is as broad as proof of proximate cause will permit.” James, 570 So.2d at 1229 (quoting Ward, 511 So.2d at 164). This court has interpreted § 6-5-71 to encompass a broad spectrum of plaintiffs and will not now start limiting them to “innocent” parties alone.

587 So.2d at 324.

The best interpretation of results in these cases are that the courts create two categories of claimants:

  1. The person injured in person or property; and
  2. Any person injured through loss of support as a result of the injury.

The intoxicated person does not have a cause of action under the dram shop statute. Maples v. Chinese Palace, Inc., 389 So.2d 120 (Ala. 1980). An innocent person who is injured by a drunk driver would have standing to bring a dram shop action. See, Ward v. Rhodes, Hammond & Beck d/b/a The Brass Monkey, 511 So.2d 159 (Ala. 1987). A patron of a bar injured in an assault committed by another intoxicated person who was served illegally alcohol will have a dram shop action. Ward, supra.

B. Potential Defendants

The class of potential defendants is “. . . any person who shall by selling, giving or otherwise disposing of to another, contrary to provisions of law . . .” As a result, a potential defendant in a dram shop action will be any entity or person violating laws relating to the use of alcohol in Alabama. Generally, the defendants in a dram shop case are Alabama Beverage Control (“ABC”) Board licensees who sell alcohol contrary to ABC regulations. The defense of contributory negligence (complicity in the drinking) is not available. McIsaac, Id. However, a defendant can raise the defense of assumption of the risk. McIsaac, Id.

C. Contrary to Law

Title 28 of the Alabama Code addresses the regulation and sale of alcohol. Section 28-3A-25 entitled “Unlawful acts and offenses; penalties”, contains 21 subsections outlining “illegal acts” under the code. In addition, there are numerous regulations promulgated by the Alabama Beverage Control Board and given the force of law pursuant to Ala. Code § 28-3-49 (1975). A violation of these regulations by an ABC licensee support a dram shop claim. Violations that support a dram shop claim include (1) service of alcohol to a bar patron who appears to be intoxicated or (2) is a minor. Any service of alcohol violation of existing law will support a claim under the dram shop statute.

The History of Liquor Liability Laws in Alabama

The term dram shop derives from the practice of English taverns to serve drinks by the “dram”, a unit of measurement similar to the “shot.” Consequently, English taverns were referred to as “dram shops” and this term then found its way into the common law. Under English common law, liquor liability did not exist and in particular, a tavern owner could not be held liable if an intoxicated person injured another person. Mosher, J. Liquor Liability Law, Section 2.01[2].

The Alabama dram shop statute is designed to alter the common law negligence analysis regarding proximate cause and contributing negligence, thereby providing a cause of action to affected parties. Alabama courts frequently cite the following language from the 1907 case of Bistline v. Ney Bros. 111 N.W. 422 (Iowa 1907) as establishing the rationale for the Alabama Dram Shop Statute. The Bistline court stated:

. . .

It is a matter of common observation that the average man when in his sober senses is not violent; is capable of exercising reason and judgment, and is mindful of his duty to his family, and to his neighbors. On the other hand, it is equally well known that intoxicants tend to dethrone the reason; to cast off self-restraint; to inflame the passions; to induce deeds of violence; and is not infrequently the moving cause which ends in murder or suicide. So true is this that when we see or hear or read of such an exhibition of human frailty, and are told that the person guilty thereof was drunk, we readily accept the statement as an all-sufficient explanation. Doubtless it was with this truth in mind that the Legislature enacted the statute which assumes that an injury done by a person while his reason, judgment, and discretion are dethroned by drink is chargeable to his abnormal condition, and that liability for such injury may extend back and affect him who furnished the liquor which produced that condition.

. . .

111 N.W. at 424. (emphasis supplied)

In addition to relaxing the rules of proximate causation, the dram shop statute is designed to be penal in nature. In McIsaac v. Monte Carlo Club, 587 So.2d 320 (Ala.1991), the court noted that the dram shop statute provided strict liability and further stated as follows:

. . .

We conclude, based on these prior interpretations, that § 6-5-71 is penal in nature and that its purpose is to punish the owners of taverns who continue to serve customers after they have become intoxicated. The legislature intended to stop or to deter drunken driving facilitated by bar owners, in order to protect the public at large from tortious conduct committed by any intoxicated person who was served liquor by a bar owner while in an intoxicated condition.

587 So.2d at 324.

The “Appears to be Intoxicated” Regulation

The primary Alabama Beverage Control (“ABC”) Board Regulation giving rise to most dram shop violations is the ABC Regulation prohibiting the sale of alcohol to one who appears intoxicated:

20-x-6.02 On Premises Licensees

. . .

4. No ABC Board on-premises licensee, employee or agent thereof shall serve any person alcoholic beverages if such person appears, considering the totality of the circumstances, to be intoxicated.

. . .

In Krupp Oil Co., Inc. v. Yeargan, 665 So.2d 920 (Ala. 1995), the Alabama Supreme Court expounded on ABC rules prohibiting the furnishing of alcohol to visibly intoxicated persons. The Krupp Oil court defined “visibly intoxicated” as follows:

A person of common intelligence will understand that someone “appearing to be intoxicated” could exhibit some or all of the following: The smell of alcohol on the breath; loud or boisterous behavior; slurred speech; glassy eyes; and unsteadiness. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but it indicates the kind of evidence that supports certain elements of criminal charges involving intoxication.

665 So.2d at 925.

Absence of visible intoxication is a ground for summary judgment in a bar owners favor in a subsequent suit by parents of a daughter injured in an auto accident with two bar patrons. Liao v. Harry’s Bar, 574 So.2d 775 (Ala. 1990). In Harry’s Bar, frequently cited by defendants, the bar patrons had several beers at Harry’s before becoming intoxicated at a wedding reception. Because of a lack of evidence of visible intoxication while the patrons were in Harry’s, summary judgment was appropriate. See, Odom v. Blackburn, 559 So.2d 1080 (Ala. 1990)(No evidence of visible intoxication where only witness who placed decedent in bar testified he was not visibly intoxicated); Adkison v. Thompson, 650 So.2d 859 (Ala. 1994)(Summary judgment appropriate where allegedly intoxicated person was seen drinking beer but witnesses said he was not intoxicated.

Plaintiffs frequently cite Duckett v. Wilson Hotel Management Corp. 660 So.2d 977 (Ala. Civ. App. 1995) on the visible intoxication requirement. In Duckett, there was evidence that the intoxicated person, normally shy, was loud and boisterous. In addition, a bar tab was produced showing the intoxicated person consumed five Black Russians in a two hour period. This evidence was sufficient to support a claim of service of alcohol in violation of ABC regulations.

Contact us for a free consultation if you have been injured due to a negligent act by another person involving alcohol. We are knowlegable and compassionate personal injury attorneys who specialize in liquor liability law in the Mobile and surrounding areas.

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