Court Holds Bar ResponsibleDateline: 09/29/99
A ruling last week by the Montana Supreme Court has once again held a bar owner responsible for damages caused by a patron because he continued to serve him alcohol knowing he was already intoxicated.
The decision upheld a $750,000 damage award against the owner of the Town Tavern in Great Falls, MT paid to one patron of the bar who was injured as a result of the actions of another customer.
Court records show that employees of the Tavern continued to serve alcohol to James Wells although he was obviously drunk -- slurring his words and acting belligerently. When Wells left the bar, he got behind the wheel of a vehicle and proceeded to drive through the barroom wall, injuring another patron.
Taking a StandThe high court ruled that bar employees should have reasonably foreseen that serving alcohol to a badly intoxicated person would lead to the customer engaging in drunken behavior that would endanger other people.
The court ruling holding the bar responsible is another indication that society in general is getting fed up with drunken drivers, along with ">stiffer laws and penalties being imposed in many states, especially for repeat offenders.
The ruling is even more striking in light of the fact the owner of the bar made a very good case that his employees had no way to predict that Wells would get behind the wheel of a vehicle after leaving the bar.
What Do You Think?
After being returned to the car and placed in the passenger seat by his family, he moved behind the steering wheel and drove the vehicle through the bar wall. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his actions.
Justice Jim Regnier wrote for the majority. "... drunken conduct is the expected, predictable and therefore reasonably foreseeable outcome of serving alcohol to a person who is already intoxicated." The law forbidding the serving of alcohol to a drunk does not require bar owners to judge the medical condition of patrons. The only measurement is whether a person appears intoxicated, Regnier said.
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