By Jed McKeehan
If someone is drinking alcohol at a bar or restaurant and they become intoxicated and then go out and cause injuries or death to someone (usually by means of a car accident) can the place that served them the alcohol be held responsible for the injuries caused by their patron?
The short answer is, generally no, but occasionally yes.
Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-10-101 states that, “the consumption of any alcoholic beverage or beer rather than the furnishing of any alcoholic beverage or beer is the proximate cause of injuries inflicted upon another by an intoxicated person.” So clearly, that statute says that the person drinking the alcohol and causing the accident is the person responsible for any injuries that they caused.
However, the very next statute, 57-10-102, states that, notwithstanding what was just previously stated, there are two specific circumstances when the entity serving alcohol can be held responsible for injuries or death caused by the alcohol consumer.
If the drunk person causing injuries was known by the bar to be under 21, and yet they served them alcohol anyway, or if the bar served alcohol to someone who was clearly intoxicated.
If either of these conditions exist, and then a jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that sale of the alcohol was the proximate cause of the injuries or death caused by the drunk person, then in those instances the bar can be held responsible for the injuries caused by a drunk person.
Except in extreme circumstances, lawmakers want to make the alcohol consumers the ones responsible for the injuries that they cause instead of the bars serving them the alcohol.
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.