When is a Store Liable for a Drunk Driving Accident?

In Tennessee, stores and restaurants can sometimes be held responsible for serving a drunk patron alcohol if that drunk person is visibly intoxicated and if he or she goes on to cause injury or death as a direct result of being served. Our Johnson City drunk driving accident lawyers know that these dram shop laws allow accident victims to take action against restaurants after drunk driving crashes.

While bars and restaurants have some responsibility to protect the public from drunk patrons, this rule applies only in limited situations. However, the Tennessean reports that the Tennessee Supreme Court is now considering a case that could impose a great deal more responsibility on stores and businesses to protect their patrons from drunken customers.

What is a Store’s Responsibility When it Comes to Drunk Customers?

The case before the Tennessee Supreme court was brought by a 38-year-old woman who was hurt in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart store. A 53-year-old man had been kicked out of a Wal-Mart store just minutes before the woman was hurt. The man was kicked out of the store for being “belligerently drunk.” He then got into a car, backed out of a parking space and injured the woman who was in the lot at the time.

The injured woman filed a negligence lawsuit against the drunk driver and against Wal-Mart, seeking compensation for her emotional distress as well as for her physical injuries.

Lower courts split on the issue of whether Wal-Mart was negligent in its actions and liable for the woman’s injuries. The trial court initially dismissed the case because of a belief that there was nothing the store could have done to control the drunk patron. The Tennessee Court of Appeals, on the other hand, indicated that the store had an obligation to the woman who was injured since she was a customer on its property.

Store owners do have a basic obligation to make sure that their property is safe for people who are invited in as customers. This means doing things like repairing defects that could cause a slip-and-fall accident or warning customers when the floors are slippery. It can also mean providing sufficient security and, perhaps as the plaintiff in this case argues, avoiding sending drunk people to drive in the store parking lots.

The two key issues that will determine whether Wal-Mart is responsible for the woman’s injuries will center around whether Wal-Mart did enough to prevent harm or whether it was negligent; and whether the injuries to the woman were foreseeable.

Wal-Mart, for example, perhaps should have predicted that ejecting the drunk patron from the store would lead him to get in his car, thus creating the risk of an accident in the parking lot. To avoid this, the store could have contacted the police to remove the drunk man so he didn’t get into a car and hurt someone. The store, however, argues that it did not contribute to the injury and had no legal duty to prevent the intoxicated man from getting in his car and driving away after he’d been evicted from the store.

How the court views Wal-Mart’s behavior and whether liability is imposed will have a dramatic impact on how stores treat intoxicated patrons and could also perhaps give injured victims another defendant to take action against to ensure they are compensated for their losses.

If you are in an accident in Johnson City, Tennessee, contact Meade Injury Law Group today at (423) 464-7779for a free consultation.

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