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Tennessee Court Considers Store Responsibility for Ejecting Drunk Patrons

In California, establishments that serve alcohol to intoxicated minors could potentially be held legally liable if the minor causes injury.  Similar laws, called dram shop laws, exist in every state; however, a Tennessee court is now considering expanding store liability further than it has ever gone in the past. A California injury lawyer provides legal analysis of the case and implications for other states. 


Court Considers Store Liability for Drunken Patrons


Throughout the United States, many states have laws called dram shop laws. The purpose of these laws is to make restaurants, bars and other establishments legally liable for serving alcohol to intoxicated patrons. A dram shop law mandates that an establishment that serves alcohol to a drunk person can be civilly liable and sued for injuries that the intoxicated patron causes. 


California has dram shop laws in place, but they are limited and impose responsibility on bars and other establishments only under certain scenarios, explains the injury lawyer. For example, in the state of California, an establishment is liable under dram shop laws for serving alcohol to a minor who is visibly intoxicated. 


In other states, dram shop laws are more broadly applied and impose responsibility under any circumstances where an intoxicated patron is served by an establishment. However, dram shop laws generally impose legal liability only in scenarios where the establishment actually provides alcohol to a drunk person. Now, however, the courts in Tennessee are considering a case that may significantly expand potential liability for the behavior of intoxicated guests. 


The case centers on the ejection of a drunken Wal-Mart customer from a store in February of 2011. An intoxicated man walked into a Wal-Mart store and was behaving in an inappropriate manner. He was clearly recognized as drunk and he was asked to leave the store because of his inappropriate behavior.  When the man exited the store, however, he became involved in an auto accident in the parking lot. 


The intoxicated man got into his car in the parking lot and hit a 38-year-old woman who sustained serious injures. The victim sued Wal-Mart, arguing that the store should be held responsible for ejecting the patron and sending him out to the parking lot where he could get behind the wheel. 


Two lower courts have already heard the case against Wal-Mart. The first court dismissed the victim’s case, arguing that Wal-Mart was under no obligation to control the drunk patron when it forced him to leave the store. However, the second court said that the lower court had made an error and that the injured woman could pursue her claim against Wal-Mart. 


Since Wal-Mart did not serve alcohol to the drunken man, the store’s potential liability arose because the woman was injured on the store’s property and because the store may have been negligent in a way that created the danger that caused her harm, explains the California injury lawyer. 


The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear and resolve the case in order to determine if Wal-Mart was responsible for the injuries or not. Stores, in the past, have been held legally liable for a failure to provide adequate security when there was the threat of harm coming to patrons. Further, premises liability rules make clear that customers are owed the highest duty of care when on the premises of a store. There could, therefore, be a reasonable argument that Wal-Mart should be held responsible for the injuries the woman sustained because the store was negligent in a way that led to this drunk man getting behind the wheel in its parking lot. 


One key question in this case is likely to center around the foreseeability of the injuries. Wal-Mart could only be responsible for the damage that occurred to the victim who was struck by the drunken man if her injuries were foreseeable based on the way in which the store treated the intoxicated patron. 


If Wal-Mart is found liable for the injuries, this could create a precedent that forces stores to be much more careful when removing drunken or disorderly patrons from their premises. This precedent could affect not only retailers in Tennessee but also in California and throughout the rest of the United States if similar incidents occur and courts decide to rule in the same way that the Tennessee judges did in their case. Personal injury lawyers could see more of such cases in the future if such a precedent were to be set. 


Additional articles on public safety and the civil claims process after an accident are available to the public free of charge through our office.


If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to speak with a California injury lawyer, feel free to call 866-981-5596. 



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